News / Africa

Drug Abuse is Major Threat to Street Kids

Living on the streets - Young woman holds a child while sniffing glue. Credit: Braitstein
Living on the streets - Young woman holds a child while sniffing glue. Credit: Braitstein

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
There are millions of children around the world living or working on the streets. A new study says their struggle to survive is made even harder by high levels of drug use.


The journal Addiction has published a systematic review of 50 studies on street kids conducted in 22 countries. It describes a “hidden epidemic” of drug use that “poses serious health threats.”

Dr. Paula Braitstein, who’s based in Kenya, is the senior author of the study. She explained why she and her colleagues wanted to learn more about drug abuse among street children.

“We live full time in Eldoret, most of us, and on a daily basis we see children and adolescents, even young children, walking around the streets of Eldoret with glue bottles essentially stuck to their noses. You see it really across Kenya and many parts of Africa as you’re traveling.  I’m an epidemiologist, and we’re very concerned about the health and well being of these young people.”

Braitstein is an associate research professor at Indiana University School of Medicine. She said over the years there was little research specifically done on street kid drug abuse. That prompted the in-depth review of past studies looking for information.
Street youth reaches for a battered football (soccer ball) with one hand while holding a glue bottle in the other. Credit BraitsteinStreet youth reaches for a battered football (soccer ball) with one hand while holding a glue bottle in the other. Credit Braitstein
x
Street youth reaches for a battered football (soccer ball) with one hand while holding a glue bottle in the other. Credit Braitstein
Street youth reaches for a battered football (soccer ball) with one hand while holding a glue bottle in the other. Credit Braitstein

“ I wasn’t surprised to see that 60 percent overall of street involved youth in resource-constrained settings use some sort of substance. I was surprised to see that close to 50 percent of them were actually using inhalants - predominantly glue, paint thinner, that kind of thing. I thought that was very, very high,” she said.

Slang words for using inhalants include sniffing, huffing, dusting and bagging. Street kids using inhalants are most likely found in low and middle income countries. Inhalants are cheap and easy to get.

“They’re so detrimental to a person’s health,” she said, “They cause really a lot of shot term effects, for example, sudden heart failure. They cause teratogenic effects. So if a girl is pregnant – she’s sniffing – and it gets passed on to her baby and causes birth defects of various kinds. It causes a huge amount of cognitive effects. Basically, their brains become impaired. The substances in the glue basically just kill your brain cells.”

The study found that street children also use alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. But inhalants are not regulated or illegal.

In high income countries, injection drugs are more popular, including heroin. Injecting drugs carries a high risk of HIV infection, as well as many other diseases, because of contaminated needles.

Braitstein said that researchers know why drug use is so widespread among street children.

“The most common reasons were essentially peer pressure, the need to survive. A lot of children report using drugs in order to cope with cold, hunger, fear -- just for pleasure -- experimentation and courage.”

Street children abusing drugs can also have a much harder time re-entering society.

“Once a child is addicted to something like glue, it makes it very difficult for them to go to school – have a normal family life. It affects their brain. It affects their cognitive abilities to learn, for example, to adapt, to adjust. Their brains will have changed. Their personalities will have changed. And they don’t understand it and the people around them don’t understand it,” she said.

Braitstein called the study a “wake-up call” for policymakers, international NGOs, the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

You May Like

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More