Background: Drug use is believed to be an important factor contributing to the poor health and increased mortality risk that has been widely observed among homeless individuals. The objective of this study was to determine the prevalence and characteristics of drug use among a representative sample of homeless individuals and to examine the association between drug problems and physical and mental health status.
Methods: Recruitment of 603 single men, 304 single women, and 284 adults with dependent children occurred at homeless shelters and meal programs in Toronto, Canada. Information was collected on demographic characteristics and patterns of drug use. The Addiction Severity Index was used to assess whether participants suffered from drug problems. Associations of drug problems with physical and mental health status (measured by the SF-12 scale) were examined using regression analyses.
Results: Forty percent of the study sample had drug problems in the last 30 days. These individuals were more likely to be single men and less educated than those without drug problems. They were also more likely to have become homeless at a younger age (mean 24.8 vs. 30.9 years) and for a longer duration (mean 4.8 vs. 2.9 years). Marijuana and cocaine were the most frequently used drugs in the past two years (40% and 27%, respectively). Drug problems within the last 30 days were associated with significantly poorer mental health status (-4.9 points, 95% CI -6.5 to -3.2) but not with poorer physical health status (-0.03 points, 95% CI -1.3 to 1.3)).
Conclusions: Drug use is common among homeless individuals in Toronto. Current drug problems are associated with poorer mental health status but not with poorer physical health status.