Protective factors associated with preventing injection drug use initiation among at-risk youth in Vancouver, British Columbia

Street youth – 15- to 24-year-olds without a permanent residence – are at considerable risk for acquiring HIV and hepatitis C due to participation in high-risk activities such as injection drug use (IDU) and sex trade work. In comparison to their older counterparts, street youth who use injection drugs are at greater risk for blood-borne infections because of their lack of experience: they are more likely to share needles and other drug equipment, and they are more likely to initially require a friend or acquaintance to inject them, decreasing their control over the use of clean equipment. In addition to the risk for HIV and hepatitis C infection, initiation of IDU at a young age is associated with participation in sex trade work, binge drug use events, criminal activity, and long term injection drug use. While most research concerned with IDU in street youth populations examines high-risk behaviours for HIV and hepatitis C infection, few studies have investigated factors that prevent street youth from initiating IDU. Catharine Chambers’ research aims to determine why certain street youth are resilient to IDU initiation and, for those youth who have experimented with injection drugs, why they initiated IDU and what can potentially prevent them from transitioning into regular users. She hypothesizes that stable relationships with primary caregivers, social support networks separate from the street community, and absence of criminal activity may provide resilience from IDU initiation. Chambers’ findings will inform the development and implementation of prevention programs to reduce initiation of injection drug use among Vancouver’s street youth. Ultimately, this could reduce the prevalence of blood-borne infections, HIV and hepatitis C, in these high-risk groups.