Doctor Robyn Dwyer, Associate Professor Peter Higgs


Information about the different groups and sub-groups within the drug using community in Victoria is not currently available. Harm Reduction Victoria (HRV) believes that this sort of information would enhance health promotion efforts and inform the development of targeted interventions for specific groups of people who use and inject illicit drugs.

This project involved a mapping exercise of people who use/inject drugs in order to identify and distinguish the different ‘tribes’ and sub-groups of drug users, including those groups at greatest risk of drug related harm, who make up the broad based community of people who use drugs in Victoria.


The project aims to better identify and describe the different ‘tribes’ or subgroups of drug users across Victoria as well as linkages and overlap between respective groups and to provide information about specific subgroups in relation to specific drug related harms. Harm Reduction Victoria aims to use this information in the development of targeted health promotion intervention and education for specific groups of drug users in an effort to reduce levels of unsafe drug use and in particular the sharing of injecting equipment.

Who Will Benefit?

The findings will enhance overall understanding of people who use illicit drugs in Victoria including the range of different groups of drug users in relation to specific drug related harms. As a result, the findings will assist in identifying the most vulnerable sections of the drug using population and those at greatest risk. In addition, HRV will use the findings from the project to inform the development of targeted education for specific groups and subgroups of people who use illicit drugs. The education proposed by HRV will include practical strategies to reduce specific areas of risk with a view to reduce the harms associated with illicit drug use.


Interviews will be conducted with a range of key informants from the health, AOD and harm reduction sectors, as well as researchers, who work with people who use illicit drugs.

Interviews will also be conducted with diverse groups of people who use illicit drugs.

Results will be collated and used as a basis to develop a social and geographical profile of the different groups of drug users in Victoria


A structured interview schedule was developed to be administered by telephone or face-to-face with drug user key experts. In order to increase geographical coverage, an online survey was also developed to test the feasibility of using this method to collect data on Victorian drug user networks.

Structured interviews with three key experts provided profiles of 11 drug user networks across Victoria, in addition to a further four drug user networks identified through prior research conducted by one of the reseachers.

HRV members were sent an email invitation to participate in the on-line survey. Respondents were asked to describe a drug user network they knew well and to identify key issues that made it difficult for members of that network to use drugs safely. Twenty-five valid surveys were completed.

Together, the structured interviews and on-line survey identified and described a range of socio-geographic drug user networks (e.g., networks of older or younger people, mainly heroin injectors, mainly speed injectors, networks of gay men and so forth). Key issues making it difficult for members of drug user networks to use drugs safely included lack of access to injecting equipment, people not accessing services due to stigma and discrimination, and insufficient knowledge of overdose and/or blood-borne virus transmission.

This pilot project demonstrated the feasibility of using key expert interviews and an on-line survey to compile profiles of Victorian drug user networks and associated risks for drug-related harm.

A report and process document has been prepared. And further interviews will be conducted on an annual basis. The annual key expert interviews and on-line survey will provide information about trends and changes and contribute to HRV’s annual health promotion strategic planning. This information will enhance HRV’s overall understanding of the drug using community in Victoria and the complex interplay of different people, different drugs as well as different methods of administration which contribute to a wide range of potential drug related harms.


2012 – 2013


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


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