Homelessness - impacts on mental ill-health and drug taking

Data from three separate national health information systems were combined to better examine trends in the health of the homeless population.

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'We wanted to examine four aspects of people's health in particular', said Ena Lynn, Research Officer at the HRB and co-author of the study.

'We looked at mental ill-health, self-harm, methadone use, and drug-related deaths.

By combining data from the Central Treatment List (CTL), the National Self-Harm Registry Ireland and the HRB’s National Drug-Related Deaths Index (NDRDI), we were able to build up a more complete picture about the health of those who experience homelessness. Across all three systems there was an increase in the absolute number of those registered as homeless'.

Some key statistics included:

  • The percentage on the CTL registered as being of no fixed abode (NFA) or homeless increased from 2% to 7% from 2011-2014.
  • The absolute number of presentations with deliberate self-harm from those of NFA increased by 49% from 2007-2014.
  • The number of drug-related deaths amongst those of NFA or homeless and who died in Dublin fluctuated from 2004-13 with an overall upward trend.

'We know from other research that a substantial proportion of people who are homeless in Ireland today have ended up – and remain - in that position because of ill-health and addiction. This data is very important because it provides new evidence for those tasked with providing services to this vulnerable population', she added.

'Almost 40% of this population now identify drug and/or alcohol problems as the primary cause of their homelessness and 80% of those who are homeless have used drugs. In contrast, just 27% of the general population in Ireland have reported ever taking drugs'.

The paper entitled, Self-harm methadone use and drug-related deaths amongst those registered as being of no fixed abode or homeless in Ireland*, was published in the Irish Medical Journal on 11 October. 

One of its main conclusions was that this new data when combined '...with the trends seen in other published surveys in relation to physical and mental ill-health, risk behaviours and addiction, suggest a care system which is failing one of its most vulnerable groups'.

Dr Mairead O'Driscoll, Interim Chief Executive at the Health Research Board commented that,

'This research demonstrates how high-quality data can provide timely, relevant evidence to help policy-makers and service planners. We are committed to maximise the use of our national datasets to enhance the delivery of our health and social care services'.

* The authors were Dr Ronan Glynn, Department of Public HSE East, Ms Ena Lynn, Health Research Board, Dr E Griffin, National Suicide Research Foundation, Dr M Fitzgerald, Department of Public HSE East and Dr M Ward Department of Public Health, HSE East.