Public opinion can play an important role in determining policy and informing political processes. However, the majority of public opinion data regarding attitudes to drug policy in Australia is collected at the broader population level, and the voices of people who use illicit drugs have traditionally been marginalised within policy debate and remain under-explored. The ‘affected community’ notion suggests that policy should be informed by the people it most directly affects – however we do not know, for example, if people who use drugs have similar or different views to the broader population about fundamental drug policy questions such as the role of needle-syringe programs, treatment and drug legalisation. This stymies opportunities for policy-making to be informed by those it most directly affects.
This project will explore the attitudes and opinions of people who inject drugs towards drug policy in Australia. This qualitative study complements a larger quantitative study on drug user policy attitudes currently being conducted by the Drug Policy Modelling Program (DPMP) at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in NSW. The two components of the study will provide an essential resource to inform future research, advocacy and policy-making. This qualitative component will be conducted in collaboration with the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users’ League (AIVL).
This project, building on the quantitative research being undertaken at DPMP, aims to investigate how people who use drugs themselves perceive drug policy in Australia. It will provide an opportunity to rethink the role played by the ‘affected community’ in drug policy processes, and generate better understandings of how these voices can, and should, be included in drug policy debate.
The drug user community and policy-makers will benefit from this research. The qualitative focus groups provide an important opportunity to further explore issues raised by the quantitative study, and to better understand the opinions of the drug user community about policy issues that affect them. The study will provide an essential resource to inform future research, advocacy (including consumer advocacy) and policy-making, enabling greater participation and consultation. This project will also afford the opportunity for AIVL to engage in collaborative research with DPMP: which would be mutually beneficial for both organisations.
Qualitative focus groups with people who inject drugs were undertaken in collaboration with AIVL in Sydney and Canberra. The questions asked were derived from the quantitative results collected as part of the 2011 Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS), which drew on the drug policy questions from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS). These questions asked about levels of support for: drug policy measures including treatment, needle syringe programs, supervised injecting centres and prescribed heroin trials; support for the personal use of drugs to be made legal; and support for increased penalties for the sale or supply of illicit drugs. We used the quantitative results as the springboard for detailed focus group discussions with people who inject drugs. The qualitative data will be analysed in collaboration with AIVL, to ensure consumer participation in all stages of the study and to access AIVL’s expertise in understanding the views and perspectives of people who inject drugs.
Three qualitative focus groups with people who inject drugs were undertaken in Canberra ACT, and in Sydney NSW. This allowed for opinions to be sought from two jurisdictions. Participants were recruited through two of AIVL’s state peer-based member organisations, the Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation & Advocacy (CAHMA) and the NSW Users & AIDS Association (NUAA). The collaborative process of data analysis is underway. The results of the study will be disseminated through publication in scientific journals, conference and seminar presentations, on the DPMP/NDARC websites, and through AIVL and its state/territory member organisations in early 2013. AIVL will develop information summarising the key findings and results of the study in formats that are accessible for research participants to be published online and in drug user magazines.
For more information relating to this project, please contact Kari Lancaster: