The Association Between Justice System Contact, Psychological Distress, and Physical Illness: An Examination of Illicit Drug Use



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Much of the existing literature equates drug use with crime. However, many individuals who use substances never formally come into contact with the justice system. Previous research has established links between illicit drug use and physical and mental health disorders. However, few studies of illicit drug use focus on both physical and mental health outcomes simultaneously. To contribute to the existing literature, this dissertation uses data from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), to investigate the correlates of justice system involvement, the severity of psychological distress, and the variety of physical disorders experienced by a sample of illicit drug users, both justice-involved and not. Additionally, this study examines the interactions between sex and race that influence justice involvement, psychological distress, and physical health. Findings suggest sex and race are important correlates of justice involvement and important predictors of physical disorders, but only sex, not race, is a significant predictor of psychological distress. Research and policy implications include the need for more nuanced measures of race and ethnicity and resources for gender responsive and culturally competent programming.



Illicit drug use, Justice involvement, Intersectionality, Physical health, Mental health