Introduction: We examined the prevalence of substance use disorders among homeless and vulnerably housed persons in three Canadian cities and its association with unmet health care needs and access to addiction treatment using baseline data from the Health and Housing in Transition Study.
Methods: In 2009, 1191 homeless and vulnerably housed persons were recruited in Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa, Canada. Interviewer administered questionnaires collected data on socio-demographics, housing history, chronic health conditions, mental health diagnoses, problematic drug use (DAST-10≥6), problematic alcohol use (AUDIT≥20), unmet physical and mental health care needs, addiction treatment in the past 12 months. Three multiple logistic regression models were fit to examine the independent association of substance use with unmet physical health care need, unmet mental health care need, and addiction treatment.
Results: Substance use was highly prevalent, with over half (53%) screening positive for the DAST-10 and 38% screening positive for the AUDIT. Problematic drug use was 29%, problematic alcohol use was lower at 16% and 7% had both problematic drug and alcohol use. In multiple regression models for unmet need, we found that problematic drug use was independently associated with unmet physical (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 1.95; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.43-2.64) and unmet mental (AOR 3.06; 95% CI 2.17-4.30) health care needs. Problematic alcohol use was not associated with unmet health care needs. Among those with problematic substance use, problematic drug use was associated with a greater likelihood of accessing addiction treatment compared to those with problematic alcohol use alone (AOR 2.32; 95% CI 1.18-4.54).
Conclusions: Problematic drug use among homeless and vulnerably housed individuals was associated with having unmet health care needs and accessing addiction treatment. Strategies to provide comprehensive health services including addiction treatment should be developed and integrated within community supported models of care.