Homicide is the third leading cause of death for teens in the United Sates and for African American youth it is the leading cause. In particular, African American adolescent males are 20 times more likely to die from gun violence than White adolescent males. Large American cities, like Philadelphia, have disproportionately high rates of homicide when compared to other areas of the country and guns are the primary means by which these homicides are committed. Gun-violence, especially in urban youth, has become a public health crisis. Although research in adults shows that personal alcohol and drug use as well as living with a substance abuser increases the risk of being a victim of homicide, limited data is available on youth substance exposure and the risk of becoming a victim of gun homicide.
[Photo: Dr. Bernadette Hohl]
In a recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal Medicine, Dr. Bernadette C. Hohl, lead author and faculty at the Rutgers School of Public Health and the Rutgers school of Criminal Justice, along with colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, Hampton University, Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, examined the relationship between alcohol and drugs exposures at the individual, familial, and neighborhood levels and adolescent gun death.
The team conducted a population based case-control study over a three-year period that included 161 homicide cases, 97.5 percent of whom were killed with a gun, and 172 matched controls between the ages of 13-20 years old. Data was collected from multiple sources including the Philadelphia Child Death Review, medical examiner’s office, and police. Information on matched controls was obtained through telephone interview.
The researchers found that drug exposure at the individual, family, and neighborhood levels and alcohol exposure at the individual and neighborhood levels were associated with increased odds of a teen being a victim of gun homicide. The study did not find evidence of a relationship between acute alcohol or drug intoxication and increased risk of becoming a victim of gun homicide. The study results demonstrate that adolescents are at risk for gun-related homicide by simply being in a family or neighborhood where drugs and alcohol are present, regardless of personal substance consumption and adds to the body of research showing the many ways that parental substance use negatively impacts youth.
“Our findings suggest that prevention efforts for adolescent firearm homicide may need to expand their focus to include broader social and contextual factors that are external to the individual” say the researchers. Public health interventions need to address neighborhood and family environments through initiatives that target the physical and social characteristics of neighborhoods and substance treatment for adults.
Association of drug and alcohol use with adolescent firearm homicide at individual, family, and neighborhood levels was published in JAMA Internal Medicine. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.8180