Laws prohibiting peer distribution of injecting equipment in Australia: A critical analysis of their effects

Stream: Advances in Harm Reduction
Date: Friday, 1 April 2016
Time: 2.00 pm – 3.45 pm


The law is a key site for the production of meanings around the ‘problem’ of drugs in public discourse. Taking the laws and regulations governing possession and distribution of injecting equipment in one jurisdiction (New South Wales, Australia) as a case study, we use Carol Bacchi’s poststructuralist approach to policy analysis to critically consider the assumptions and presuppositions underpinning this legislative and regulatory framework, with a particular focus on examining the discursive, subjectification and lived effects of these laws.

We argue that legislative prohibitions on the distribution of injecting equipment except by ‘authorised persons’ within ‘approved programs’ constitute people who inject drugs as irresponsible, irrational, and untrustworthy and re-inscribe a familiar stereotype of the drug ‘addict’. These constructions of people who inject drugs fundamentally constrain how the provision of injecting equipment may be thought about in policy and practice.

We suggest that prohibitions on the distribution of injecting equipment among peers may also have other, material, effects and may be counterproductive to various public health aims and objectives. However, the actions undertaken by some people who inject drugs to distribute equipment to their peers may disrupt and challenge these constructions, through a counter-discourse in which people who inject drugs are constituted as active agents with a vital role to play in blood-borne virus prevention in the community. Such activity continues to bring with it the risk of criminal prosecution, and so it remains a vexed issue.


Kari Lancaster (Presenter), National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre
Kari Lancaster is a Senior Research Officer and PhD Candidate at the Drug Policy Modelling Program, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Australia. Since joining the Drug Policy Modelling Program in 2009, Kari has undertaken research investigating policy processes, with a particular interest in examining ‘problematisation’ and how drug policy problems and policy knowledge(s) are constituted.

Kate Seear, Monash University
Dr Kate Seear teaches in the Faculty's clinical legal education program. She is a practising solicitor, Senior Lecturer in Law, and Academic Director of the Springvale Monash Legal Service. Kate has a multidisciplinary background (sociology, gender studies and the law) and her academic research focuses on law, health, gender and the body. Her particular interests are in the management and constitution of addiction, alcohol and other drug use in different contexts and the intersections between harm reduction and the law. Kate's research uses empirical methods to examine the social and legal aspects of health and illness, especially alcohol and other drug use.

Carla Treloar, Centre for Social Research in Health
Professor Carla Treloar is Deputy Director of the Centre for Social Research in Health and head of the Centre's hepatitis research team. Carla's research interests are in the fields of hepatitis C and injecting drug use. She is a primarily qualitative researcher and is grounded in the disciplines of health and social psychology and public health. However, Carla constantly seeks to work across methods and disciplines. In particular, she sees it essential to work towards blending the insights that an individual-based discipline like health psychology can provide when issues such as hepatitis C and illicit drug use are considered in social, legal and political contexts.