UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Elevated risk of incarceration among street-involved youth who initiate drug dealing Hoy, Carly; Barker, Brittany; Regan, Jackie; Dong, Huiru; Richardson, Lindsey; Kerr, Thomas; DeBeck, Kora


Background: Street-involved youth are known to be an economically vulnerable population that commonly resorts to risky activities such as drug dealing to generate income. While incarceration is common among people who use illicit drugs and associated with increased economic vulnerability, interventions among this population remain inadequate. Although previous research has documented the role of incarceration in further entrenching youth in both the criminal justice system and street life, less is known whether recent incarceration predicts initiating drug dealing among vulnerable youth. This study examines the relationship between incarceration and drug dealing initiation among street-involved youth. Methods: Between September 2005 and November 2014, data were collected through the At-Risk Youth Study, a cohort of street-involved youth who use illicit drugs, in Vancouver, Canada. An extended Cox model with time-dependent variables was used to examine the relationship between recent incarceration and initiation into drug dealing, controlling for relevant confounders. Results: Among 1172 youth enrolled, only 194 (16.6%) were drug dealing naïve at baseline and completed at least one additional study visit to facilitate the assessment of drug dealing initiation. Among this sample, 56 (29%) subsequently initiated drug dealing. In final multivariable Cox regression analysis, recent incarceration was significantly associated with initiating drug dealing (adjusted hazard ratio = 2.31; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.21–4.42), after adjusting for potential confounders. Measures of recent incarceration lagged to the prior study follow-up were not found to predict initiation of drug dealing (hazard ratio = 1.50; 95% CI 0.66–3.42). Conclusions: These findings suggest that among this study sample, incarceration does not appear to significantly propel youth to initiate drug dealing. However, the initiation of drug dealing among youth coincides with an increased risk of incarceration and their consequent vulnerability to the significant harms associated therein. Given that existing services tailored to street-involved youth are inadequate, evidence-based interventions should be invested and scaled up as a public health priority.

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