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Up to 92 Percent of All Street Children in Some Counties Use Drugs

Update Date: Jul 12, 2013 01:08 PM EDT

Street children show high levels of drugs use, according to a new study.

A new study, published in the journal Addiction, reviewed 50 studies of drug use among street children in 22 counties.  Researchers wanted to shed new light on the magnitude of the problem, the causes and health consequences of drug.

Researcher from Moi University (Kenya), Indiana University (USA), Regenstrief Institute (USA) and University of Toronto (Canada) found that the most common used drug among street children in low- and middle-income countries is inhalants, or things like glue, acetone, gasoline and paint thinner.

Researchers explain that street children from low- and middle-income counties tend to gravitate toward inhalants because they're cheap and legal, and therefore easy to obtain. However, street children in high-income counties tend to favor injection drugs like heroin.

Researchers said the use of drugs us a huge obstacle to street children being re-integrated into society and having a healthy and productive life once they are off the streets. Previous research has linked inhalants to cognitive and neurological impairment and psychological and physical dependence.  These drugs are also linked to sudden death from cardiac arrhythmia and other causes.

The study revealed that the incidence of drug use among street children varies widely among counties, from 14 percent in Nigeria to 92 percent in Honduras and Brazil.  Researchers said these estimates are several times higher than the World Health Organization's estimates of drug use among non- street youth worldwide.

The study revealed that the most common reasons street children turn to drug are peer pressure, escapism, pleasure, curiosity and increasing courage and strength for life on the streets.

Senior study author Dr. Paula Braitstein said that one of the most important outcomes of the review is an understanding of what new research needs to be done.

"As a result of this review, we learned that we don't really know what causes street children to start and stop using drugs," Braitstein said in a news release. "We also found that many studies of street children focus on boys, so we have even less information about girls' drug use. Finally, although we know that some street children exchange sex for drugs or have sex while under the influence of drugs, little else is known about the link between drug use and risky sex behavior."

There are several critical gaps in our knowledge that we need to fill," she concluded.

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