INDIANAPOLIS - Youth who enter the juvenile justice system are at a high risk of becoming drug users, according to a researcher at Indiana University School of Medicine. Professor Matt Aalsma wants to change that dangerous course for at-risk offenders.

Aalsma has received a nearly $5 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to study justice-involved youth experiencing substance use disorders.

The five-year grant will allow Aalsma’s team to continue work that is part of IU's Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge.

"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.

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. Aalsma says that precise moment is when the young offenders are most motivated to make a change.

IU says Aalsma has been working in Tippecanoe and Wayne counties and has trained dozens of mental health practitioners. The grant will allow his team to expand that work across eight counties over the next five years.

Among youth who have been involved in the criminal justice system, drug overdose is a leading cause of death, second only to homicide.