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Open Access Research article

Injection drug use among street-involved youth in a Canadian setting

Thomas Kerr12*, Brandon DL Marshall1, Cari Miller3, Kate Shannon12, Ruth Zhang1, Julio SG Montaner12 and Evan Wood12

Author Affiliations

1 British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, St. Paul's Hospital, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

2 Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

3 Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2009, 9:171  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-171

Published: 3 June 2009



Street-involved youth contend with an array of health and social challenges, including elevated rates of blood-borne infections and mortality. In addition, there has been growing concern regarding high-risk drug use among street-involved youth, in particular injection drug use. We undertook this study to examine the prevalence of injection drug use and associated risks among street-involved youth in Vancouver, Canada.


From September 2005 to November 2007, baseline data were collected for the At-Risk Youth Study (ARYS), a prospective cohort of street-recruited youth aged 14 to 26 in Vancouver, Canada. Using multiple logistic regression, we compared youth with and without a history of injection.


The sample included 560 youth among whom the median age was 21.9 years, 179 (32%) were female, and 230 (41.1%) reported prior injection drug use. Factors associated with injection drug use in multivariate analyses included age ≥ 22 years (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 1.18, 95% CI: 1.10–1.28); sex work involvement (AOR = 2.17, 95% CI: 1.35–3.50); non-fatal overdose (AOR = 2.10, 95% CI: 1.38–3.20); and hepatitis C (HCV) infection (AOR = 22.61, 95% CI: 7.78–65.70).


These findings highlight an alarmingly high prevalence of injection drug use among street-involved youth and demonstrate its association with an array of risks and harms, including sex work involvement, overdose, and HCV infection. These findings point to the need for a broad set of policies and interventions to prevent the initiation of injection drug use and address the risks faced by street-involved youth who are actively injecting.