Some won’t even touch your hand to take your money off you: Harm reduction strategies and experiences of stigma and discrimination within the lives of people who inject drugs

Stream: Stigma 2
Date: Thursday, 31 March 2016
Time: 3.30 pm – 4.45 pm


Introduction/Aims: This paper draws upon findings of a peer-based qualitative study conducted by the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) into the re-use of injecting equipment in Australia. Re-use of injecting equipment remains unacceptably high amongst people who inject drugs (PWID) in Australia contributing toward escalating Hepatitis C transmission. This peer-driven study aimed to explore from the perspective of people who inject drugs (PWID) the reasons for continued re-use of injecting equipment in Australia.

Methods/approach: A qualitative study based on the findings of eight focus groups with a total of 50 PWID participants held across Australia. A thematic analysis of the focus group data was conducted.

Results/Findings: Our research identified various intersecting contextual factors that act as barriers to harm reduction practices being taken up by PWID. Experiences of stigma and discrimination significantly impacted upon the ability for PWID incorporate harm reduction practices into their lives.

Discussion/Conclusion/Recommendations: The broader societal narrative of the criminalised, drug using ‘other’ continues to inform many of the practices within key settings that PWID encounter including health settings. The negotiation of the ‘drug user’ identity was revealed to have a significant impact upon the ability of injecting drug users to ‘take up’ the harm reduction opportunities available to them. Illicit drug use remains criminalised and injecting drug use engenders fear and social opprobrium. PWID are acutely aware of this ‘dis-ease’ and must negotiate this complex interplay of narratives and power structures often in settings where harm reduction is ostensibly to be prioritised.


Angella Duvnjak (Presenter), AIVL
Dr Angella Duvnjak is currently Program Manager for the Hepatitis and other BBVs program at the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL). She has been teaching, researching and publishing in the social sciences and public health over the past 15 years. Dr Duvnjak is also a qualified social worker with a background in women’s health including domestic violence, sexual assault and reproductive health. Her work with AIVL brings together this diverse skill and knowledge base toward the goal of improving the human rights of people who inject drugs and people living with Hepatitis C.