Early Identification of Substance Misuse Needed
Stricter screening services need to be introduced to pick up misuse of drugs and drink among people with intellectual disabilities, according to University of Ulster researchers.
They found that while the incidence of substance misuse among this group of vulnerable people is relatively low, the problems faced by the individuals can be disproportionately serious.
Researchers Laurence Taggart and Derek McLaughlin of UU’s School of Nursing said that early identification among what they term the ‘hidden population’ could reduce the long established patterns of misuse and associated behavioural problems.
However, for this to happen there needs to be much greater co-operation between health care professionals, teachers, employers and staff in residential and day care centres.
According to Dr Taggart alcohol was found to be the main substance to be misused. One fifth of substance users also used a combination of illicit drugs and/or prescribed medication. Three quarters of the sample were found to be hazardously using alcohol for more than five years.
Young males with borderline or mild intellectual disability were found to be more at risk of developing a substance related problem. Living independently and mental health problems were identified as other risk factors by the researchers.
“The findings of this study would suggest that greater emphasis needs to be placed upon the early identification of this hidden population by primary and secondary health care personnel and also intellectual disability personnel.
“Yet key professionals in primary care such as GPs have been shown to be lacking in knowledge and skills to identify substance misuse and to offer effective care. The problem is further compounded when the person also has an intellectual disability,” said Dr Taggart.
The research project was funded by the Mental Health and Learning disability Review (N.I.).