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Gang researchers at UH examine health, consequences of long-term gang

The University of Houston Center for Drug and Social Policy Research (CDSPR) has been awarded a $2.4 million grant by the National Institutes of Health to study the long-term consequences of adolescent gang membership among Mexican Americans.

The funds will be awarded over the next four years.

"This is a follow-up to a study we conducted 10 years ago with 160 gang members in west San Antonio," said Avelardo Valdez, principal investigator and director of CDSPR. "This kind of longitudinal study is one of the first to look at the consequences of being a Mexican American young man engaging in a gang lifestyle."

The study, co-directed by assistant professor Alice Cepeda, will examine what has happened to these young men, now in their 20s. It is expected that some are incarcerated, unemployed or deceased. Some may be dealing with serious health issues like hepatitis or HIV/AIDS because of injecting-drug use and/or unprotected sexual activity with multiple partners.

"We think that those who divorced themselves from their peers will have done better. Those with a regular partner will have done better. Those in the labor force will have done better," Valdez said. "Some of these young men will have very positive outcomes, and we'll want to know how they did it. Maybe their answers contain interventions that we haven't heard of yet."

Valdez and researchers with CDSPR have conducted extensive research on gangs, drugs, violence and sex workers in South Texas and the U.S.-Mexico border. He says conclusions from this study will aid in the development of significant intervention and prevention programs and policies. Valdez expects to follow this same group through adulthood.

"We are excited about this study because there is little research in this area despite the fact that Mexican Americans are the fastest-growing population in the U.S.," Valdez said. "This will begin to explain the social trajectory of Mexican Americans and why it is not similar to other social populations."


Contact: Marisa Ramirez
University of Houston

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