Justice-involved youth at risk of substance use disorders focus of $4.8 million NIH grant to IU

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana University School of Medicine professor has received $4.8 million from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to study justice-involved youth experiencing substance use disorders. As part of the Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network, the work aims to help at-risk youth avoid drug addiction and take positive steps to improve their lives.

Awarded to Matt Aalsma, a professor of pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine, the five-year grant will allow his team to continue work that is part of IU’s Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge.

Matthew C. Aalsma
Matthew C. Aalsma. Photo courtesy of Matthew Aalsma

Aalsma and his team have been working with caseworkers and probation departments in Indiana to implement screening for drug use at the time a youth enters the juvenile justice system — a time when they are most motivated to make a change, according to researchers. Teens who test positive are engaged in evidence-based interventions, and parents and caretakers of the teens are provided with additional resources.

The team is also training case managers and counselors working with justice-involved youth to identify those at risk and help provide access to appropriate care.

Among youth who have been involved in the criminal justice system, drug overdose is a leading cause of death, second only to homicide. Although a number of practices have been shown to be effective in helping teens avoid or overcome substance use disorder, they are rarely provided to justice-involved youth, and this population is less likely than other teens to access any type of substance use services.

“Our academic team is excited to collaborate with Indiana state court and treatment partners, as well as county-level court and communal health system collaborators, to improve the health of justice-involved youth,” Aalsma said. “This grant will allow us to continue to address the addictions crisis, which has been the focus of IU’s Grand Challenge initiative.”

So far, Aalsma has been working in Tippecanoe and Wayne counties and has trained dozens of mental health practitioners. The recent grant from the National Institutes of Health will allow his team to expand that work across eight counties over the next five years. It also allows the team to be a part of the Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network, established by the National Institutes of Health to support research on quality addiction treatment for opioid use disorder in criminal justice settings nationwide.

“Indiana juvenile courts and communal health systems are at the front line of providing care for youth,” he said. “We anticipate our project will improve access and utilization of needed substance use treatment for vulnerable youth involved in a complex justice system. We also hope this effort will create closer partnerships between the court and community mental health systems.”

Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge

IU’s Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge engages a broad array of IU’s world-class faculty, as well as business, nonprofit and government partners, to create a comprehensive plan to reduce deaths from addiction, ease the burden of addiction on Hoosier communities, and improve health and economic outcomes. This collaborative, statewide initiative is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive university-led response to the opioid addiction crisis.

IU Research

Indiana University’s world-class researchers have driven innovation and creative initiatives that matter for nearly 200 years. From curing testicular cancer to collaborating with NASA to search for life on Mars, IU has earned its reputation as a world-class research institution. Supported by $680 million last year from our partners, IU researchers are building collaborations and uncovering new solutions that improve lives in Indiana and around the globe.

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