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NIDA. (2010, October 1). High, Persistent Rates of Risky Sexual Behaviors in Delinquent Youth. Retrieved from

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October 01, 2010

Young people who have gotten into trouble with the criminal justice system report high rates of sexual behaviors that increase risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

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Dr. Linda A. Teplin, principal investigator, Dr. Katherine S. Elkington, and colleagues at Northwestern University conducted a longitudinal study of 689 boys and girls aged 10 to 18 in Chicago's Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. The researchers found that all the delinquent youth were at high risk for HIV and other STIs but that substance use disorder greatly increased the risk.

When asked about the previous 3 months, 25 percent of the study participants reported unprotected sex, and more than 40 percent said they had sex while drunk or high. Three years later, the prevalence of risky sexual behaviors had increased: 50 percent reported unprotected sex during the previous 3 months and more than 60 percent reported sex while drunk or high. Youth with a substance use disorder at the initial interview were the most sexually active and showed the highest incidence of risky sexual behaviors at the followup interview: 75 percent of these young people engaged in five or more risky sexual behaviors. In contrast, among those with a serious mental disorder—such as a major depressive disorder, manic episode, or psychosis—without substance abuse, 50 percent engaged in five or more risky sexual behaviors. This group had the lowest risk of unprotected sex among those studied. The researchers recommend that health care and juvenile justice professionals collaborate to develop effective HIV/STI interventions that can begin in detention centers, where youths typically stay 2 weeks, and continue after release.

Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 47(8):901-911, 2008. [Full Text (PDF, 332KB)]