May 17, 2021

The School of Social Work’s Social Development Research Group—in collaboration with Seattle Children's Research Institute and Washington state’s juvenile-justice program—is conducting a two-year pilot project to address the rising opioid epidemic among youth and young adults, especially those in juvenile-justice settings. The project received about $1.3 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health’s HEAL Initiative (Helping to End Addiction Long-term).

Nationally, nearly 20% of adolescents and young adults in the juvenile and criminal justice system, including a disproportionate percentage of youth of color, are dependent on opioids, which is a strong predictor of subsequent re-incarcerations. When these youth re-enter society, they often have little or no community support to act as a buffer against the risks for using or reusing opioids.

Working with Washington state’s Division of Children, Youth and Families’ Juvenile Rehabilitation Division, scientists from SDRG are evaluating science-based interventions that provide education, treatment after-care and community support for youth who leave the prison system. The team is working with institutions and community group home facilities across the state to pilot the program. A three-year clinical trial will start in the fall. 

“The opioid epidemic among adolescents and youth who have been institutionalized is very real,” said Kevin Haggerty, the School’s endowed professor for prevention. “This group is often the most marginalized and the most vulnerable.” Haggerty is a principal investigator on this research with Dr. Kym Ahrens, associate professor, UW School of Medicine, and a researcher at Seattle Children’s Center for Child Health and Development at the Seattle Children's Research Institute  

A recognized leader in the field of prevention science, SDRG seeks to understand and promote healthy behaviors and positive social development among diverse populations of young people. Using science and community input, the group develops and tests change strategies for families, schools and communities.