Aboriginal injecting drug use critical, emerging


Sir – There is evidence and growing concern about a rise in injecting drug use and related harm within Aboriginal communities, including in more remote areas of Australia, according to research being presented at the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs (APSAD) Conference in Perth today.
There is evidence to suggest the way in which Aboriginal people use illicit drugs has changed over the last two decades.
The proportion of Aboriginal people accessing needle syringe programs has increased from 5% of the total in 1995 to 14% in 2014, and the rate of hepatitis C is now three times that of non-Aboriginal Australians.
It is particularly concerning that around 16% of new HIV cases among Aboriginal people are due to injecting drug use compared with 3% in non-Aboriginal Australians.
Also of concern is the apparent increase in the use of methamphetamine or ice among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with two recent studies confirming ice as the most commonly used drug while injecting.
My research has explored similar issues in Indigenous populations across the globe, and studied models of care that are specific to these populations.
Indigenous populations worldwide are at increased risk of alcohol and other drug problems.  Through studying these populations we have an idea of what strategies may work to address injecting drug use in Aboriginal Australian communities. Strategies that engage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their development are most likely to work.
Much of the focus of harm reduction programs in Aboriginal communities has been on alcohol and cannabis use, but there is now a pressing need to focus on injecting drug use as well.
In particular, reducing rates of sharing injecting equipment with extended family members, with whom Aboriginal people are more likely to reside, is critical to reducing the risks of passing on HIV and hepatitis C.
Associate Professor James Ward (pictured above)

South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute
(A/Prof Ward is an Aboriginal man of Pitjantjatjara and Nurrunga descent from Central and South Australia and Deputy Program Lead for Indigenous Health at the Baker Institute in Alice Springs.)


  1. We need to be careful of generalisations in order to correctly target social problems.
    i would say that Injecting drug use is extremely rare in remote centralian Aboriginal Communities.
    Evidence to the contrary welcomed.

  2. A great piece of research, James. More power to you in your efforts to disclose the sad realities of the areas in which you work. Your proactive insights and efforts in the field are most welcomed. Your solution-focused approaches to managing these issues is to be very much encouraged.


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