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Research shows intentional drug overdose is most common reason homeless people present at hospitals

New research indicates that intentional drug overdose is the most common method used in a large number of "concerning" presentations t hospitals involving people who are homeless.

A conference heard that street drugs are three times more common in intentional drug overdose scenarios involving homeless people than compared to those in a fixed residence.

The findings were presented by Caroline Daly, a researcher from the National Suicide Research Foundation (NSRF), at the two-day conference in street medicine hosted by Safetynet.

Ms Daly said that within the homeless population, males and young people aged 25-44 are at the greatest risk of self-harm.

Intentional drug overdose (IDO) is the most common method used with a concerning number of presentations (795) involving methods of high potential lethality abd street drugs are three times more common in IDOs by homeless persons, compared to those of fixed residence.

The research also found that a quarter of homeless people who self-harm either refuse admission to hospital or leave before an assessment is received.

“From all 36 emergency departments across the RoI, between 01/01/07-31/12/17 we recorded 4,868 non fatal self-harm presentations by people who were homeless,” Ms Daly said.

“The 795 cases were the episodes of self-harm by homeless people which could be termed of 'high potential lethality' which incorporates an attempted drowning, hanging, or and overdose with over 80 tablets.

"I aim to portray that we need to respond to the increasing incidence of self-harm in the homeless population by ensuring adequate resource allocation and targeted use of these funds within the health and social services," Ms Daly said. "Ultimately addressing self-harm among the homeless requires reducing the many risk factors they experience, but also enhancing the factors which are protective against self-harm."

Her recommendations arising out of the research include the expansion of social policy measures, with proven efficacy to reduce self-harm, growing specialised mental health services for homeless persons to meet the complex need of these individuals, and boosting inter-departmental collaboration to care for homeless people who self-harm.

Ms Daly also advocated raining for healthcare professionals, particularly in the emergency department setting, in dealing with patients who are homeless and self-harming.

Last year the first homeless liaison nurse at one of the country’s busiest hospitals told the Irish Examiner that half of the homeless people who attended the emergency department in the first four months of 2018 left before they received full treatment.

Jessica Kenny was the first person to be appointed to the role of homeless liaison nurse at Dublin’s Mater Hospital and said at the time: "A huge problem with homeless people is finding them and tracking them when they have no fixed abode,” she said. “How do they get out-patient or follow-up appointments with no address?"

The conference organised by Safetynet and which is being held in Cork continues today.