07/19/2012 06:05 EDT | Updated 09/18/2012 05:12 EDT

Street-involved youth becoming regular drug injectors at an alarming rate

VANCOUVER - A new study by researchers in British Columbia has found the vast majority of youth on the streets of Vancouver who try injection drugs for the first time become regular users.

The study by researchers at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS focused on 338 youth between the ages of 14 and 25 years old who regularly access shelters or drop-in centres.

Of those, 74 per cent became regular drug injectors, and 60 per cent of those regular users began frequent use within one month of their first time injecting heroin, cocaine or methamphetamines.

Kora DeBeck, one of the researchers on the study, said the youth were mainly based in the south side of downtown Vancouver, around Granville and Davie streets.

DeBeck said the study showed that the type of drugs being injected had no bearing on users becoming regular injectors. Instead, it was the demographics of those in the study that made a difference.

"Female youth were more likely to transition become regular injectors and also youth who had a history of childhood physical abuse," said DeBeck.

De Beck said the results were quite surprising, because in recent years, dramatic reductions have been seen for regular injection drug use in Vancouver.

She pointed to Vancouver's harm reduction strategies as the reason for the decrease in injection drug use in the city, and she said such efforts must to be directed towards street youth.

DeBeck said the increase in drug use also put more youth at risk of contracting HIV and AIDS, and in future the study will be following up on those already questioned.

The paper will be presented next week at International AIDS Conference in Washington.