Home > Drug use among marginalised young men.

Keane, Martin (2004) Drug use among marginalised young men. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 11, June 2004, p. 6.

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In early 2004 The Katharine Howard Foundation published a report examining the issue of homelessness among young men in the context of the wider issue of marginalisation among men in contemporary Ireland. Entitled Young men on the margins, the report was written by researchers from the Social Science Research Centre at University College Dublin, with Anne Cleary as project director. One of the main objectives of the research was to gain an understanding of how and why some men end up and remain homeless.

 Using a qualitative approach, the researchers conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews over a period of two months with twenty men aged 18–30 years attending a drop-in centre for homeless men in Dublin. A high prevalence of substance misuse was found in this sample of men. Thirteen participants were, or had been, addicted to heroin, seven were current intravenous (IV) heroin users, six were on methadone maintenance programmes, and one of these was also addicted to alcohol. Two men were described as having alcohol problems. One participant had been addicted to ecstasy, but was now clear, and one young man was a heavy cannabis user. Several participants reported polydrug use, using a mixture of benzodiazepines, sleeping tablets, Valium, alcohol and heroin.

 The majority of participants reported engaging in drug use prior to becoming homeless and some reported that this behaviour had caused them to become homeless. Many explained that they were removed from the home by relatives unwilling to endure their anti-social behaviour around drug use and criminal activity. Some criminal activity was directly related to securing money to buy drugs. The experience of homelessness led to more chaotic drug use for some, with progression to heroin use tending to follow their becoming homeless.  A consequence of this progression was that drug use now became the main obstacle for most participants wishing to move out of homelessness. In addition, a number of participants had experience of overdosing leading to hospitalisation. However, this did not deter them from using drugs.

 Many participants had experience of trying to stop using drugs; 16 men reported undergoing some form of detoxification for their drug use. However, criticism was voiced of existing drug treatment services, long waiting lists and difficulty in securing treatment without a fixed address were cited. These were viewed as major barriers to progression out of homelessness. In addition, some participants expressed concern about substituting methadone maintenance for their heroin addiction, as they had a negative perception of the symptoms of withdrawal from methadone.

 A positive message for policy makers and practitioners emerged from the research. Most participants remained orientated towards important social goals. For example, many expressed their need to regain 'normality' in their lives through the restoration of broken relationships with ex-girlfriends and their hopes of becoming fathers. This is an important theme to emerge from this research, for it indicates the value of some form of family unit to marginalised men who are homeless and using drugs. For policy makers and practitioners alike, the restoration of damaged family bonds among marginalised men with drug problems needs to be discussed alongside other social inclusion measures such as accommodation, education/training and employment initiatives.  

 The current report is a valuable addition to the existing research on drug use among the homeless. For example, Houghton and Hickey2 and Halpenny et al.,3 looking at homeless families in emergency accommodation, also found that drug misuse was reported to be a major contributory factor to becoming homeless in the first instance. Smith et al.4 found that homeless women in emergency accommodation reported engaging in a high level of polydrug use, including injecting heroin, during their homeless experience. Although these studies focused on different groups of participants, drug misuse as a major contributor to becoming and remaining homeless is clearly a dominant theme.

1. Cleary A, Corbett M, Galvin M and Wall J (2004) Young men on the margins. Dublin: Katharine Howard Foundation. 
 2. Houghton FT and Hickey C (2000) Focusing on B&Bs: the unacceptable growth of emergency B&B placement in Dublin. Dublin: Focus Ireland. 
 3. Halpenny AM, Keogh  AF and Gilligan R (2002) A place for families? Children in families living in emergency accommodation.  Dublin: Homeless Agency. 
 4. Smith M, McGee H  and Shannon W (2001) One hundred homeless women: health status and health service use of homeless women and their children in Dublin. Dublin: Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Issue Title
Issue 11, June 2004
June 2004
Page Range
p. 6
Health Research Board
Issue 11, June 2004
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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