Injecting drug use, HIV, hep C escalating in Indigenous communities.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald Author Saffron Howden
Published: November 10, 2015

Injecting drug use is escalating among Indigenous Australians, bringing with it alarming rates of HIV and hepatitis C infection.

The rate of hepatitis C among Aboriginal people is now three times that of non-Indigenous Australians, research to be presented at an alcohol and other drugs conference on Tuesday shows.

And, over the 20 years to 2014, the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders accessing needle syringe programs increased from five per cent of the total to 14 per cent.

"The story is pretty grim, to be honest," Associate Professor James Ward from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute said.

"There's an estimate that one to two per cent of the Australian population have ever injected drugs. Around 10 per cent of Aboriginal people have ever injected drugs," he told Fairfax Media.

"We're still getting increasing rates of HIV and hepatitis C."

"Ice" and other amphetamine-type drugs are the most common injected in Aboriginal communities and the waiting lists for rehabilitation centres around the country are growing.

While the problem was still centred in urban and outer-urban areas, it was encroaching on remote communities too.

Associate Professor Ward, who is presenting his findings at the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs (APSAD) conference in Perth, said a "massive" investment in rehabilitation and treatment was required.

There was a need to expand the reach of needle and syringe programs, he said. And Aboriginal medical services need to adopt harm minimisation programs as a fixture in their practices.

"We need a massive investment," Associate Professor Ward said.

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