Crystal Methamphetamine Use Rampant Among Street Youth

Vancouver, April 3, 2008 — Almost three-quarters of street youth in Vancouver have used crystal methamphetamine, and nearly 95 per cent of street youth reported that the drug was 'very easy' to acquire, finds a new study authored by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE).
The study, published in Drug and Alcohol Review, is the first to investigate circumstances surrounding the initiation of crystal methamphetamine use among Vancouver street youth. Researchers collected information from 478 participants enrolled in the BC-CfE's At-Risk Youth Study (ARYS) between September 2005 and October 2006. The average age of respondents was 22 years.

Crystal methamphetamine use plays a role in the initiation of injection drug use, and this is particularly relevant to the spread of blood-borne infections like HIV, says study co-author Dr. Thomas Kerr.

“Recently, public health experts have been placing more emphasis on the need to prevent injection drug use before it starts because harms, like the spread of diseases like HIV, are difficult to prevent once an individual begins injecting,” Kerr says. “Knowing the circumstances of first injection experiences can help develop strategies to prevent youth from starting.”

The study found that approximately 25 per cent of all first illicit drug injections performed by street youth involved crystal methamphetamine. Youth moved towards injecting crystal methamphetamine over time; among those who had used the drug, first administration was mostly through smoking (68 per cent) while injecting accounted for slightly more than seven per cent.

Most street youth (80 per cent) had first received crystal methamphetamine as a gift, and while almost 25 per cent were using other illicit drugs when they first used crystal methamphetamine, almost 65 per cent reported being sober prior to their first use of the drug.

Compared with those who had never used crystal methamphetamine, street youth who reported using crystal methamphetamine were more likely to have been homeless (within the previous six months), previously imprisoned, sexually abused, and involved in the sex trade. They were also more likely to have a history of mental illness, have visited an emergency room in the last six months, and to be current injection drug users.

These findings have immediate policy implications and relevance to the new Anti-Drug Strategy which places renewed emphasis on law enforcement, says BC-CfE lead author Dr. Evan Wood.

“Heroin and cocaine are farmed thousands of miles away and yet they still flow into the country unabated,” says Wood. “Crystal methamphetamine is cheaply and easily produced locally, and I believe that Canada's new Anti-Drug Strategy must concentrate on more health-focused solutions to the problem and not predominantly increased enforcement.”

“Efforts to reduce the supply of crystal methamphetamine have repeatedly failed across North America, and this suggests that conventional drug prevention strategies that primarily rely on law enforcement rather than health-focused approaches will not able to contain the use of crystal methamphetamine among youth,” he continues.

Study authors highlight the urgent need for innovative solutions to the widespread use of crystal methamphetamine including harm reduction programs to reduce the spread of HIV among youth.
For a full copy of the study or interview requests, contact Stephen Burega, media relations, 604-506-3734, stephen.burega@karyo-edelman.com or contact William Mbaho and Karyo Edelman at 604-623-3007 or email william.mbaho@karyo-edelman.com

About the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS
Founded in 1992 by St. Paul's Hospital and the provincial Ministry of Health, the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS is a key provincial resource seeking to improve the health of people with HIV through the development, ongoing monitoring and dissemination of comprehensive investigative and treatment programs for HIV and related diseases. St. Paul's Hospital is one of seven care facilities operated by Providence Health Care, Canada's largest faith-based health care organization.