In the decade 1989-99 there have been significant changes in the patterns of substance use in the Australian community. Juvenile offenders have been a sentinel population of these emerging trends. The social and personal costs associated with adolescent substance use, especially where it leads to increased criminal offending requires urgent attention. This study was a replication of the 1989 and 1994 surveys of young people in detention in New South Wales, Australia. The 300 voluntary participants from nine detention centres had a similar demographic profile to participants of the previous surveys. They were predominantly male (90%) with a mean age of 16.5 years and an over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander peoples. The patterns of lifetime alcohol and tobacco use were stable over the decade, with particular increases in amphetamine, opioid and cocaine use since 1994. The more concerning pattern of at least weekly substance use revealed significant increases in cannabis, opioid and cocaine use since 1994, but a significant decrease in the frequent use of alcohol. This study also reports on high levels of negative health and psychosocial consequences of substance use, including overdose, among this group. High levels of self-reported depression and suicidal behaviours, family and gender issues are also discussed. Encouragingly, there was a relatively high level of self-recognized treatment need for substance use and mental health problems among the sample. This highlights further the growing need for the development and dissemination of novel interventions that harness this willingness and actively engage, motivate and maintain these young people in accessible, appropriate and effective interventions.
- Mental health