Associate Professor Peter Higgs, Professor David Moore


Australian studies show that injecting drugs (primarily opiates) was established by the early 1970s meaning people who started injecting in their youth are now approaching 60 years of age. Surveillance data from the Annual National Needle and Syringe Program Survey and the Illicit Drug Reporting System, as well as data from the national opiate substitution treatment data suggest there is a large, ageing cohort of opiate injectors in Australia.

Data from Australian studies suggest that older Australian opiate users face numerous health and social problems as they get older. Injecting drug use is known to be associated with a wide range of negative outcomes, including overdose, blood-borne viral infections such as hepatitis B and C and soft tissue and vascular problems. Many of these conditions are chronic, producing lasting problems for affected individuals and with substantial economic costs to the community. The development of a discussion paper by the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL), the peak body representing people who inject drugs illicitly in Australia has identified older drug users as a group with particular needs which are not being addressed by the health and welfare agencies with which they currently interact.

Despite these social and economic harms there are always survivors – people who inject drugs for years or even decades and escape the most serious disadvantages. What happens over the life course of an Australian injecting drug user is not well understood. Studies of the natural history of any problem or issue are vital to enable a thorough understanding, but the literature contains limited reports of how injecting drug use develops and changes over time.  The primary focus of this study is exploring and documenting how it is that some people survive and manage their injecting drug use over the trajectory of their life. This pilot study will investigate drug use patterns among a cohort of people with lengthy histories of injecting drug use, largely from a cohort of injecting drug users who were recruited in 1990 to the VICS cohort.


This pilot study will explore and document the life trajectories of a
cohort of older injectors in Australia to identify the needs of this
population, which will in turn inform the development of a larger study more
focused on public health policy and practice.

Who Will Benefit?

This pilot study will produce one of the first studies of ageing drug users in
Australia, and will be a novel examination of the trajectory of drug use and
associated harms.  Given that this group will become an increasingly populous group suffering from multiple physical and mental health problems, the research will have clear implications for policy and practice. 


With the help and support of Harm Reduction Victoria former VICS participants will be initially contacted and invited to take part in this pilot study. 
Researchers will conduct semi-structured interviews to collect information about a wide range of issues relating to participants’ lives, including their drug use patterns.


2013 – 2014


For more information relating to this project, please contact Peter Higgs:


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