Objectives: To describe the drug history and co-existing psycho-social problems among under-19 year olds accessing treatment for opiate dependency, including methadone maintenance, and examine for any gender differences.
Method: A descriptive study of under-19 years assessed at the largest drug treatment clinic in Dublin, Ireland, between October 2000 and September 2006. Data was obtained through review of case notes, assessment questionnaires and urine drug screens.
Results: Eighty-six young people were included. Their mean age was 16.8 years. Forty-six (54%) were female. Only 26 (30%) reported an intact family of origin. Twenty-three (27%) had been in care. Mean age for first use of any illicit drug was 12.4 years, and for heroin was 14.8 years. The mean age of leaving school was 14.4 years; 42 (49%) first tried heroin after leaving school. Forty-one (48%) had a history of homelessness. Forty-four (51%) had previously injected; 26 (30%) were currently injecting. Fifty-six (65%) had not been screened for blood-borne diseases; twenty-one (24%) subsequently tested positive for hepatitis C. Thirty-eight (48%) had previous convictions; 33 (38%) were facing charges. Forty-five (52%) had previously seen a psychiatrist; nine (11%) had received inpatient psychiatric treatment. Boys were more likely to leave school early, have a substance-abusing sibling, and to have a past conviction. Girls were more likely to have a partner, and have taken a deliberate overdose.
Conclusions: This study highlights the multiple and complex needs of teenagers abusing opiates. Services seeking to meet their needs will require a broad range of interventions and excellent interagency co-operation.