Homeless Women More Likely to Use Heroin, Cocaine Than Homeless Men

By McCarton Ackerman 08/06/15

Homeless women also had greater rates of mental health issues.

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Previous research has found that women gravitate to harder substances more so than men, but a new study shows that trend also extends to those who are homeless.

The UK-based study carried out by Homeless Link, which represents groups who work directly with the homeless throughout England, looked at 3,355 people currently experiencing homelessness. They found that one-third of the homeless women in the study reported using heroin in the last month, compared to 28% of the men, and that 31% of the women had used crack cocaine or cocaine during that same period compared to 29% of the men.

Homeless women were also more likely than their male counterparts to use prescription drugs and heroin-substitute, methadone. They also had greater rates of mental health issues such as depression.

Health issues were also a problem across the board for this population. Nearly 91% of participants reported a mental health difficulty and 88% said they had a physical health problem. About 37% of participants also admitted to drinking alcohol every day, which is likely exacerbating one or both of these conditions.

“This evidence is vital for local areas to ensure the most effective responses to people’s needs are commissioned,” said Jacqui McCluskey, director of policy and communications for Homeless Link. “There is a clear link between housing and health needs, which services across both sectors must work together to address.”

However, a study out of Canada also released this month found no evidence that a housing first strategy is enough on its own to tackle substance abuse among the chronically homeless who suffer from mental illness.

The findings were from a project led by Simon Fraser University health science professor Julian Somers, but he also acknowledged that there were positive benefits of a housing first approach and said that “housing is, in all likelihood, necessary [to successfully treat drug addiction].”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.