Youngest Drug Users Most Likely to Leave Treatment Programs

Being homeless also contributed to early dropout rate, study says

TUESDAY, April 29, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Young and homeless problem drug users, and those not currently injecting drugs, are most likely to leave drug treatment programs early, a British study finds.

University of Kent and Kings College London researchers analyzed data on 2,624 problem drug users in treatment programs and found that 25 percent left the programs before they'd completed 30 days of the program. Of those, two-thirds never even started the recommended course of treatment. Those who left early were much younger than those who remained in the programs.

The study also found that drug users were more than twice as likely to exit early if there was a longer waiting time between assessment and the start of treatment. This suggests that program differences, not just individual factors, influence the decision to exit treatment early, the researchers said.

Interviews with treatment agency staff and drug users support this conclusion.

"Whilst it is easy to blame the early exit out rate of problem drug users on the 'chaos' of their lives of drug and their lack of motivation, our data and interviews suggest that there is not much that services can do to enhance the rate of retention in the first few days and weeks," noted study author Dr. Alex Stevens.

For example, problem drug users who don't belong to the traditional client group of users in their late 20s and 30s who inject heroin may be put off by drug treatment services provided in often run-down buildings in central locations. And limited hours of service may make it difficult for some, especially those with jobs, to attend treatment.

While methods to increase early retention -- such as proactive, personalized contact for appointments and motivational interviewing during treatment sessions -- are available, they're not widespread, the researchers said.

The study was published in the current issue of Harm Reduction Journal.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about treatment for drug addiction.

SOURCE: BioMed Central, news release, April 24, 2008
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