Vancouver street kids turn to meth

Vancouver street kids turn to meth
About 75 per cent of local street youth use crystal methamphetamine, a ‘highly alarming’ study finds
Darah Hansen, Vancouver Sun
Published: Tuesday, April 01, 2008

VANCOUVER – Injection drug use is on the rise among street youth in Vancouver, fuelled by alarming rates of crystal methamphetamine use, a new study has found.

The federally funded study, authored by medical researchers with the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, found that crystal meth users surveyed were four times more likely to inject drugs, compared to drug users who didn’t use crystal meth.

It’s the first time a large-scale survey of crystal meth use among street youth has been undertaken in Canada. And researchers were shocked by some of its findings, particularly around the sheer prevalence of the drug.

About 75 per cent of participating street youth reported crystal meth use – a number one of the study authors described as "highly alarming."

"I don’t think anybody knew it was that pervasive in that population," said Dr. Evan Wood.

"We’re dealing with a crystal methamphetamine epidemic here."

By comparison, only about 15 per cent of addicts on Vancouver’s drug-hardened Downtown Eastside reported crystal meth use.

According to Wood, the study raises serious concerns that this highly addictive and dangerous street drug is creating a whole new generation of injection drug users. With it comes widespread health care implications linked to increased drug overdoses and HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C infection rates.

Already both HIV and hep C have been detected among local street youth, said Wood.

The study findings also raise questions around crystal meth injection rates among  youth outside the street culture, given the widespread prevalence of the drug in small towns and suburban neighbourhoods across the country.

Nearly 500 Vancouver street youth between the ages of 14 and 26 years took part in the study, which spanned September 2005 to October 2006. Most of the participants said they were either living on the streets or spent a significant portion of their day out on the streets.

"They are people living on the margins of society," said Wood.

The findings will be published this May in the Australia-based journal, The Drug and Alcohol Review.

Among other critical findings, the study found that 95 per cent of the youth who reported crystal meth use said it was "very easy" to obtain the drug, while the remaining five per cent said it was "easy" to get.

"It’s out there," said Wood.

Eighty per cent of first-time crystal meth users said they were given the drug as a "gift" at a party with friends, and most were sober when they used it.

The study also found that 25 per cent of first-time crystal meth users injected the drug, while the majority either smoked, snorted or swallowed it.

However, said Wood, the rate of injection goes up steadily among those who continue to use the drug.

"Even when we adjusted for all kinds of variables, there seems to be this link between crystal methamphetamine and injection drug use," Wood said.

Wood said the study did not address why users choose to inject crystal meth. That question will be among the many yet to be answered as researchers continue to probe the issue over the next five years.

"What leads people to pick up a needle and begin injecting is really a mystery," he said. Researchers are hoping the current study results will catch the interest of federal drug policy makers in Canada, whose current focus is on supply reduction.

"I do think we need to really start to consider where we are putting our efforts and our resources," Wood said. "Given what we are facing with drugs in society, we really need to start looking at the scientific evidence and modifying what we are doing to address these issues."

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