Access to drug and alcohol treatment among a cohort of street-involved youth

Background: A number of options for treatment are available to young drug users, but little is known about the youth who actually attempt to access such services. Here we identify characteristics of a cohort of street-involved youth and highlight commonly encountered barriers. Methods: From September 2005 to July 2007, data were collected from the At-Risk Youth Study (ARYS), a prospective cohort of 529 drug users aged 14–26 living in Vancouver, Canada. Participants who attempted to access any addiction services in the 6 months prior to enrollment were compared in univariate analyses and multiple logistic regression modeling of socio-demographic and drug-related factors. Results: Factors positively associated with attempting to access services included Aboriginal ethnicity (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 1.66 [1.05–2.62]), high school education (AOR = 1.66 [1.09–2.55]), mental illness (AOR = 2.25 [1.50–3.38]), non-injection crack use (AOR = 2.93 [1.76–4.89]), and spending >$50 on drugs per day (AOR = 2.13 [1.41–3.22]). Among those who experienced difficulty-accessing services, the most commonly identified barrier was excessively long waiting lists. In a subgroup analysis comparing those who tried to access services but were unsuccessful to those who were successful, risk factors positively associated with failure included drug bingeing (odds ratio [OR] = 2.86 [1.22–6.76]) and homelessness (OR = 3.86 [1.11–13.4]). Conclusions: In light of accumulating evidence that drug use among street youth is associated with risky health-related behaviors, improving access to treatment and other addiction services should remain an important public health priority.

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Drug and Alcohol Dependence