Illicit drug use remains a major public health concern throughout Canada, and available evidence indicates that injection drug use and crystal methamphetamine use is steadily increasing among youth. Youth whose social or economic base is on urban streets are particularly vulnerable to illicit drug use, HIV infection and other adverse health outcomes. Adolescence and young adulthood are critical times with respect to illicit drug use and HIV infection, as it is a period during which many behavioural patterns that pose or offset future health risks become established. However, there remains a major gap in our understanding of factors that may facilitate or protect youth from initiating injection drug use, and there is a consequent lack of information around how to shape related interventions. Thomas Kerr is investigating the impact of psychosocial characteristics (e.g. self-efficacy and depression) and crystal methamphetamine use on patterns of illicit drug use, HIV risk behaviours and HIV incidence among drug users aged 14 to 24. Drawing data from two large population-based cohort studies that will follow 500 non-injecting drug using youth and more than 1000 HIV-negative injection drug users, he is addressing a growing threat to the health of many Canadians.