Experimenting with injection drugs leads to regular use for many youth: B.C. study
A distressing number of Vancouver’s street-involved youth who experiment with injection drugs become regular injectors, a new study has found. Of those who begin experimenting, 84 per cent become regular injection drug users within a year and 60 per cent start injecting after a month.
The study, released Thursday by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) and the Urban Health Research Initiative, followed 338 street-involved youth — defined as homeless individuals who access drop-in centres and shelters and use illicit drugs other than marijuana — from 2005 to 2010. Within that period, 74 per cent of youth became regular users after an initial experimentation.
A 2009 study by the BC-CfE found that 41 per cent of Vancouver street youth experimented with injected drug use at some point, but the new findings shed light on rates of progression, says Dr. Kora DeBeck, lead author of the study.
“[We were surprised] by the level of transition that was happening, and how quickly it was happening,” said DeBeck. “It underscored ... how important it is to have early intervention, and have evidence-based addiction treatments really early in the stage of drug use to try and prevent that first time of injecting.”
Respondents who experienced childhood trauma were more likely to become regular users, with childhood abuse making up 82 per cent of regular drug injectors.
“We were wondering if maybe different drugs had different trajectories. We didn’t find an association between that, but we did see that youth who had experienced childhood physical abuse were more likely to progress [to regular users],” said DeBeck, a post-doctoral fellow at the BC-CfE and the University of British Columbia.
The study, which centred on the Downtown South area with a few participants from the Downtown Eastside, also showed that women are more likely to become regular injectors than men. Eighty-three per cent of women become regular injectors after initial experimentation, compared with 71 per cent of men.
“This is consistent [with] lots of other studies showing that female drug users do tend to be more vulnerable to drug-related harm,” said DeBeck. “It’s a very unfortunate situation and something that is reflected among adult drug-using women as well.”
The researcher points out that rates of injection drug use among established adult users in Vancouver is on the decline, but an escalating number of youth injecting drugs is contributing to a growing population of new users. DeBeck says she hopes the study, which will be presented at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. July 26, will affect strategies focused on curbing injection use among youth.
“We hope [the study is used] as an indication and focus for policy-makers to implement targeted interventions and early interventions for street youth.”