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Illicit Drug Use Among American Youths


Authored by Newcomb, Birkett, Corrliss, and Mustanski, the article ‘Sexual Orientation, Gender, and Racial Differences in Illicit Drug Use in a Sample of the US High School Students’ is a study on the prevalence levels of illicit drug use and addiction among American youths. The main research objective is to evaluate the differences and pervasiveness of unlawful drug use and compulsion amongst the American youths across demographic differences such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. The study seeks to answer the question of whether these differences can reveal any variations in terms of illicit drug preferences among high school students.

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While supporting their research propositions, Newcomb et al. (2014) use a wide scholarly research. They hypothesize that sexual minority students exhibit higher differences in terms of illicit drug use and addiction in relation to heterosexual students. Consistent with this hypothesis, the study reports high prevalence rates for drug addiction among sexual minorities compared to heterosexuals. More differences are recorded among male sexual minorities relative to female sexual minorities. However, racial minority has a lower prevalence rate of illicit drug abuse and addiction.

Newcomb et al. (2014) arrive at their results after conducting an evaluation based on data on youth risky conducts from 11 states namely, “Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; Delaware; Maine; Massachusetts; New York City, New York; Rhode Island; and Vermont” (p.304). The research concludes that sexual minority groups of youths are at an escalated risk of drug addiction. To arrest this problem, the researchers propose institutional and individual-focused programs for addressing their identified disparities in drug prevalence among high school students.

Research Evaluation

Literature review is a mandatory requirement for any scholarly research. It helps in establishing various past research findings and recommendations on a given research topic in an attempt to avoid duplication of findings. As such, literature review helps identify gaps so that any future research can enjoy an increased wealth of knowledge in a given area of study or discipline. Although not explicitly expressed in the article, indications of these aspects of literature review are present in the article. For instance, in setting the background for their research, Newcomb et al. (2014) not only review various past research findings, but also establish a gap of low attention in studying subgroup differences among minority drug addicts. They also identify researches that focus on prevalence rates of illicit drug (marijuana, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, methamphetamine, and inhalants) abuse and addiction across demographic differences in their population study segment. Such attempts make it sufficiently sound to infer that, attributes of a literature review are present in their work, despite their failure to define a section of such a review.

The research is relevant and consistent with current health issues in drug addiction in the US. For instance, In November 2012, Washington and Colorado passed regulations to legalize the use of pot (marijuana) for recreational purposes. This move expanded the scope of legal use of marijuana since both states also legalize the deployment of pot for medicinal purposes (Hartman, 2013). Using marijuana remains a federal crime. It is among the various drugs and substances whose manufacturing, distribution, and use are regulated by the 1970 Act on drugs and substance use (Hartman, 2013). Legalization of marijuana is causing a heated debate between health professionals and administrators on the implications of such policies amidst the negative effects of the drug. There are also concerns in terms of the likelihood of increased prevalence of the drug use among students and other risky groups in the US.

Since the study uses secondary data, it qualifies to be a secondary research. It measures differences in drug addiction for different groups of people depending on their racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, and gender differences with the aim of determining the prevalence rates for each group. In this extent, the research is experimental, but based on randomized variables. Newcomb et al. (2014) reveal that they deployed complex sampling in conducting the research. However, their research does not set out a particular sample size because “ the actual sample sizes for each analysis vary because of differences among survey items that are included by jurisdictions, as well as differences in random missingness” (Newcomb et al., 2014, p.305). This situation may establish the problem of bias in terms of reliability and validity of the research findings. However, the researchers solve the problem by adjusting the relative weights for each sample size. Consequently, the sample size for each jurisdiction becomes well adapted to the purpose of the research by eliminating possibilities of biasness. Nevertheless, the problem of generalization of the research findings to all states in the US remains. The researchers do not use samples from all states.

Appropriateness of the Research

The research has practical implications in the US context. Newcomb et al. (2014) suggest that research findings can be applied in designing programs for reducing disparities in the prevalence of drug abuse and addiction among the target population segment. In my opinion, the research can be applied in addressing the problem of drug addiction, which requires the possession of information on the most vulnerable groups so that such programs can be customized.

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The findings of the research help in providing information that can influence policy decision such as legalization of marijuana in the US. Indeed, Daley and Feit (2013) identify illicit drug addiction as one of the leading health problems in the US. Heroin becomes the third recently highly abused drug, with18-25-year youngsters engaging in its use. On the other hand, methamphetamine is a highly addictive drug that ranks the second in terms of prevalence of use after marijuana in the US (The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2012). Indeed, Coffin, Santos, and Das (2012) reveal that more than one million people in the US used the drug in 2009. It is associated with low perception levels in terms of the risk of vulnerability, which may result in involvement of risky sexual behaviors that lead to increased prevalence of HIV infection among its users as suggested by Solomon, Halkitis, Moeller, and Pappas (2012) and Halkitis, Mukherjee and Palamar (2010). Hence, studying prevalence rates or identifying groups of people who are most likely to encounter the risk of drug addiction and drug use has practical implications in terms of reduction of health problems in the US.

Solomon et al. (2012) provide a study on methamphetamine addiction among men who have sex with other men (MSM) in the New York City. 95% of all studied black Americans reported to have used methamphetamine in 2011. Another 97 percent of these people had developed dependency (addiction) on the drug use (Solomon et al., 2012). These findings suggest that methamphetamine addiction is a major problem among different people across the diversity divide in the US. With the emergence of rave cultures and currently the electronic dance music (EDM) culture, which are associated with higher rates of abuse among the youths, consistent with the study by Newcomb et al. (2014), it is important to derive programs for addressing drug addiction in the US. However, the research does not draw data from all sates in the US. Thus, its practical implication is only limited to 11 states.

Amid the wide applicability of the research as mentioned above, it is based on data that was gathered by different jurisdictions between 2005 and 2007. This observation suggests that its findings and conclusions are based on information that is 7 to 9 years old. The question that arises is, ‘to what extent is the research reflective of the prevalence rates and differences in drug use and addiction in 2014?’ Answering this question gives a room for improvement of the research. The research could have been improved by conducting primary research in the jurisdictions from which the data was obtained. Nevertheless, the writing of the article is clear and straightforward. This claim means that it can be read and understood by people from all disciplines, rather than just healthcare professionals.

The research has a room for further research. The researchers are aware of such a possibility when they claim that “uniform approaches to assessing drug use and related constructs using community samples will be important supplements to these findings” (Newcomb et al., 2014, p.309). Additionally, future research can focus on appropriate programs for addressing drug addiction depending on the identified differences in terms of prevalence and/or effectiveness of such programs.


Drug addiction is a serious healthcare-related problem in the US. Addressing healthcare problems requires the availability of information to help develop policies for mitigating them. From the analyzed research, the problem of generalization of the research findings across all US states is inevitable. However, the research sets forth an important direction in ensuring the development of customized healthcare policies that seek to minimize the threats posed by drug use and addiction.

Reference List

Coffin, P., Santos, G., & Das, M. (2012). Aripiprazole for the treatment of methamphetamine dependence: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Addiction, 10(8), 751-761.

Daley, C., & Feit, D. (2013). The many roles of social workers in the prevention and treatment of alcohol and drug addiction: A major health and social problem affecting individuals, families and society. Social Work in Public Health, 28(3–4), 159–164.

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Halkitis, N., Mukherjee P., & Palamar, J. (2010). Longitudinal Modeling of Methamphetamine Use and Sexual Risk Behaviors in Gay and Bisexual Men. AIDS and Behavior, 13 (4), 783–791.

Hartman, H. (2013). Legalize marijuana and the workplace: preparing for the Trend. Employee Relations Law Journal, 38(4), 72-75.

Newcomb, M., Birkett, M., Corrliss, H., & Mustanski, B. (2014). Sexual Orientation, Gender, and Racial Differences in Illicit Drug Use in a Sample of U.S. High School Students. American Journal of Public Health, 104(2), 304-310.

Solomon, T., Halkitis, P., Moeller, R., & Pappas, M. (2012). Levels of Methamphetamine Use Addiction among Gay, Bisexual and Other Men Who Have Sex with Men. Addiction Research and Theory, 20(1), 21-29.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2012). World Drug Report 2012, UNODC. New York, NY: UNODC.

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