The findings both of earlier research and of the present study show that Indigenous IDUs, as would be expected, have much in common with non-Indigenous IDUs. For instance the available evidence indicates that average age of first injecting is similar for both groups, and that in both cases a significant minority of injectors are female. The present study suggests a high level of interaction between Indigenous and non-Indigenous IDUs, especially in urban areas ('It's all the same scene'), and gives no reason to believe that the drugs most often injected by Indigenous IDUs are significantly different from those commonly used by non-Indigenous injectors. Sharing of injecting equipment is an issue for both groups.
Nevertheless the available evidence, both quantitative and qualitative, also suggests some differences. Particularly striking is the fact that - reflecting high rates of incarceration among Indigenous Australians overall - Indigenous IDUs are much more likely than non-Indigenous IDUs to have spent time in prison. Although comprehensive data are not available, there is also evidence to suggest that the proportion of people who have experience of injecting drugs is somewhat higher in the Indigenous than the non-Indigenous population.
Other trends or patterns suggested by this and/or earlier research include the following:
- Reflecting the circumstances of Indigenous Australians generally, levels of social and economic disadvantage are likely to be particularly high among Indigenous IDUs; for example in terms of income, housing conditions, general health and access to health services. Various implications for safe/unsafe injecting may follow – from the low expectations of life that are reflected in the belief that 'something is going to get us' (if not hepatitis C, then something else), to the fact that overcrowded or impermanent housing can make it more difficult for IDUs to ensure that they have clean injecting equipment available when needed.
- For a range of reasons, including the fact that drugs may often be purchased by or for a group of IDUs, the frequency of injecting with a group of friends or relatives, and the common expectation in Indigenous communities that money or goods will be shared with others, injecting among Indigenous IDUs may often have a communal flavour that can encourage sharing of injecting equipment.
- While individual experience no doubt varies considerably, there are suggestions that drug injecting among Indigenous IDUs may in general be more sporadic than among non-Indigenous IDUs – at least outside the major cities. Possible reasons for this are low Indigenous incomes and the unreliability of drug availability in non-urban areas with relatively high Indigenous population. Some observers believe that sporadic or opportunistic injecting carries greater risks of unsafe behaviour.
- Given the fact that Indigenous communities, even in urban areas, tend to be small and close-knit, maintaining anonymity is a very high priority for many Indigenous IDUs.
- Numbers of those consulted during this study identified young Indigenous IDUs as a particularly vulnerable group that may fail to use NSPs and other health services.