Associate Professor Peter Higgs, Danielle Horyniak


Beyond those of South-East Asian ethnicity, little is known about injecting drug use (IDU) among culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) populations. There has been some concern about emerging IDU among Melbourne’s African migrant communities since the mid-2000s, and in our recent fieldwork (Burnet Institute MIX study) we have noted a number of people of African ethnicity becoming involved in the street-based heroin market in Melbourne’s West. Given that East Africans are among the fastest-growing migrant groups in Australia, and African youth experience significant social disadvantage and marginalisation, it is possible that African youth may be at risk of becoming involved in IDU.


The project aims to:

  • Describe attitudes towards alcohol and other drug (AOD) use, including IDU, among East African migrant and refugee youth;
  • Describe experiences of IDU among those who have injected, and explore exposure to injecting among members of this group who have never injected drugs; and
  • Explore cultural attitudes and understandings around drug use and how these are related to issues such as migration experiences, acculturation, intergenerational conflict and social identity.

Who Will Benefit?

This research aims to benefit the African community directly. As there is no empirical data exploring IDU among this population, our research will serve as an assessment of the extent of IDU among this group. We will be able to highlight where harm reduction and prevention resources and services may be needed, and research data generated may be used to inform the development of relevant community-based programs.


The project will involve interviews with African youth, who live, work or study in Melbourne’s Western suburbs (Cities of Maribyrnong/Brimbank) and have either ever injected drugs or may be at risk of transitioning to IDU. The project will be a collaboration between researchers at the Burnet Institute and African community workers from the Centre for Multicultural Youth.
Participants will be recruited through the MIX study, snowball sampling and through key contacts facilitated by the community workers. Face-to-face in-depth interviews will be conducted  and will be voice-recorded and transcribed. The questionnaire will cover basic demographics, birth country experiences, migration experiences, social integration and drug and alcohol use.


Eighteen in-depth interviews have been conducted with marginalised African youth (6 current injectors, 12 never injectors), and analysis is currently underway.
Key findings to-date:

  • Participants reported exposure to conflict-related trauma, family separation and resettlement challenges.
  • Two key motivations for heavy alcohol consumption were identified: boredom, and coping with trauma
  • Health and social consequences associated with alcohol consumption included breakdown of family relationships, interpersonal violence, contact with the justice system and poor physical health.
  • Participants reported being exposed to injecting in community settings (parks, public housing estates) and in prison.
  • Injecting drug use was perceived by non-injectors as ‘stupid’, ‘unclean’ and ‘unnatural’; people who had injected drugs were considered to have crossed a moral boundary and were excluded from the social group. 
  • Among those who had injected, initiation experiences reflected a convergence of three key factors: difficulty coping with trauma/hardship, exposure to illicit drugs resulting in the formation of the belief that drug use will create a desired effect, including an escape from these feelings, and connections with experienced injectors.
  • AOD use, and IDU in particular, were highly stigmatised, and a source of conflict between young people, their families and community elders.

The findings highlight the need for implementation of programs that encourage open discussion and reduce stigma about AOD use among African migrant communities.


Early findings from the study were presented at APSAD 2012, and an oral presentation describing motivations and consequences of heavy alcohol consumption among this group will be presented at the upcoming Australasian Refugee Health Conference (October 2013). Preparation of two manuscripts for submission to peer-review journals (one focusing on exposure and attitudes to injecting drug use, and one focusing on motivations for and consequences of harmful alcohol consumption) is underway.


Preparation of two manuscripts for submission to peer-review journals (one focusing on exposure and attitudes to injecting drug use, and one focusing on motivations for and consequences of harmful alcohol consumption) is underway.


2012 – 2013


For more information relating to this project, please contact Danielle Horyniak: