Using longitudinal studies of people who use drugs to understand their health and social needs

April 2014

NDRI (Melbourne): Dr Peter Higgs

Project description: 

Longitudinal cohort studies are the key to managing the wide ranging methodological challenges of studying people who inject drugs. Australians are now living longer, and increasing numbers of people are affected by chronic disease. Australian Government data has established that chronic non-communicable diseases are now responsible for around 80% of the total burden of disease in Australia and it is estimated that by 2020 they will account for almost 75% of all deaths. Concurrent ageing and drug use (licit and illicit) create a discrete set of unique and, as yet, not fully understood problems for older people. Ageing is often associated with an increased risk of painful medical conditions including arthritis and people are self-medicating with various drugs (including alcohol) to cope with the symptoms. Primary health care providers can overlook drug use among older people, mistaking the symptoms for those of dementia, depression, or other problems common to older adults.

Understanding the morbidity and mortality of long term drug use is vitally important in helping to develop initiatives that can reduce this impact, particularly since people with a history of injecting drugs are likely to have elevated rates of multiple physical health problems as they age.

Dr Higgs has received a 4-year Curtin University Early Career Research Fellowship to conduct field-based research that focuses on working with drug users to understand their health and social needs.  His research aims to refine knowledge and understanding of the trajectories and natural history of injecting drug use by undertaking innovative qualitative research with participants from a series of two already established longitudinal cohort studies MIX and Networks in Melbourne and recruiting participants for a new one based on retrospectively finding participants from the first cohort of injecting drug users – VICS (1989-95). By using longitudinal methods of studying people using licit and illicit drugs, this proposal will collect information about the patterns and transience of drug use over time. Analysis will also be based on the methods and experiences participants have of these changes. The focus will be upon the health and well-being of older drug injectors, a severely neglected group likely to be at high risk of multiple health problems.

For more about this project: Go to NDRI's website.