My body, my drugs, my world awarded for outstanding science

Melbourne researchers have been recognised for their major study of injecting drug use and hepatitis C risk in rural Australia.

From the University of Melbourne's Centre for Health and Society, Associate Professor John Fitzgerald says this is the first documented report of young rural novice injectors' experiences of hepatitis C risk as they undergo the transformation of becoming injecting drug users.

The research team was recently awarded a Rural Victorian Alcohol and Drug Conference Award for their study which investigated how the social transformation of becoming an injecting drug user impacts on a young person's identity and how their sense of self can change in the transformation.

Associate Professor Fitzgerald says, "There is a profound social transformation that occurs when a young person injects a drug for the first time.

"They inject more than the drug, they inject the force of social transformation."

The researchers believe that by reducing this "force of social transformation", novice drug users will be able to better integrate safe practices into their lives and would therefore manage their drug use and risk of hepatitis C transmission more effectively.

In their report – part of a major 'My body, my drugs, my world project' – the researchers suggest a series of recommendations to help achieve this, ranging from recognising and supporting the central role of parents and families of drug users to developing several interventions to reduce the harmful effects of social surveillance and the stigma associated with drug use.

The report, 'Unspoken but everpresent: Hepatitis C in a regional setting' has already had an impact and is being used to formulate a regional response to hepatitis C risk.

"Hepatitis C is one of Australia's most prevalent diseases and infects thousands of Australians every year," Associate Professor Fitzgerald says.

"In Victoria, hepatitis C has been associated with drug use for at least thirty years and more than 75 per cent of those recently diagnosed reported a history of injecting drug use."

Associate Professor Fitzgerald says that despite the widespread recognition of drug use as a major problem in Australia, there has been surprisingly little social research in this area.

The University of Melbourne's ARC and Department of Human Services-funded 'My Body, My Drugs, My World' project aims to address this imbalance. This report is the outcome of one component of the research being undertaken in this major, internationally significant, project.

The research team brings together a multidisciplinary group of researchers and practitioners, including Dr John Fitzgerald (Centre for Health & Society), Dr Kevin McDonald (Sociology), Mr Matthew Klugman (History) and Ms Helena Jedjud (drug outreach worker), as well as PhD researchers.

The report can be downloaded at www.bodydrugsworld.unimelb.edu.au

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