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Equity of access to treatment, and barriers to treatment for illicit drug use in Australia


Erol Digiusto, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, 2052. E-mail:


Aims and design  This study investigated equity of access to treatment and barriers to treatment for illicit drug use, using Andersen's behavioural model of health service utilization.

Setting and participants  The study involved 492 drug users who had received treatment and 193 who had not.

Measurements  Participants were interviewed to gather data relating to 19 predisposing, need and enabling variables.

Findings  Never-treated participants exhibited less need for treatment than those who had received treatment. They experienced less negative emotion, used their main drug less often, had fewer drug-related health problems and fewer drug-using friends, were less likely to have blood-borne virus infections and were more likely to be using drugs for ‘fun’. They also had more negative attitudes towards drug treatment staff, were less likely to believe that appropriate treatment was available and less likely to believe that professional help was necessary to get off drugs. Prevalence of physical and mental health problems was high in both groups.

Conclusions  The study documented significant unmet treatment need and identified several sources of inequity and barriers to treatment that would be amenable to policy and service development. Drug user organizations and peer educators and motivational interventions in primary care settings should be utilized to market the nature and benefits of treatment effectively, and to address the causes of drug users' negative attitudes towards treatment.