Runaways and Drug Addiction
Heroin and prescription opioid abuse is a huge problem across the entire country, but homeless and runaway people are an exceptionally vulnerable population; they come from backgrounds of extreme stress and pre-existing substance abuse, which makes it more likely that they will start using (or continue to use) deadly drugs, like heroin, which is sold cheaply and used intravenously with materials that are easily obtainable (a cheap syringe, a cigarette lighter, and a spoon). Sharing or using discarded needles also exposes a person to the possibility of contracting a blood-borne illness, like HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C.
But thanks to an oversaturation of powerful prescription medicines, as well as a thriving black market, homeless and runaway people are also exposed to the trafficking and use (and dangers) of drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone. The medications are used for pain management; they are also very addictive and have rewritten the landscape of drug abuse across the country. While people in rural and suburban communities struggle with an influx of drugs and death, those who live on the streets and in shelters are not immune; the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal writes of 22 percent of 457 homeless youths in Los Angeles abusing prescription drugs.
The study by the Journal of Drug Issues on substance abuse in runaway and homeless youth discovered that that population uses alcohol and drugs earlier, and much more often, than those who do not run away from home (even though experimenting with substances is common among that general age group). While opioids like heroin and prescription medication have gained popularity in recent years, the choice of drugs also depends on the location. In Hollywood, for example, runaway youths used mostly marijuana (93 percent), speed (66 percent), LSD (61 percent), and cocaine (50 percent). In the Midwest, on the other hand, alcohol was consumed by 81.2 percent of homeless youths, and only 69.4 percent smoked marijuana.
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