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Keywords:

  • crime;
  • substance abuse;
  • intravenous;
  • mental health;
  • harm reduction

Abstract

Objective: Explore demographic characteristics, patterns of drug use and psychological distress among regular injecting drug users (IDUs) in Australia, as a function of recent criminal activity.

Methods: Structured, face-to-face interviews with 909 regular IDUs recruited from every capital city in Australia, between June and August 2007, as part of the annual Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS). Criminal activity in the past month was assessed using the Opiate Treatment Index (OTI); psychological distress was assessed using the Kessler psychological distress scale (K10).

Results: Forty-three per cent of IDUs reported recent (past month) criminal activity. Those who had committed crime recently were younger, exhibited riskier patterns of drug use, reported more drug-related problems and were more likely to exhibit significant psychological distress. In a multivariate model the most important correlates of recent criminal activity were use of more than three drug types recently (OR=2.66, 95% CI 1.96-3.61), initiation to injecting before age 18 (OR=1.93, 95% CI 1.42-2.61) and daily drug injection (OR=1.55, 95% CI 1.13-2.13).

Conclusions and Implications: Criminal activity among regular IDUs in Australia is not restricted to a particular demographic group, and is a marker for riskier patterns of drug use, greater drug-related harm and psychological distress. Contact between IDUs and the criminal justice system provides opportunities for the delivery of targeted harm reduction messages, and for screening and diversion into appropriate treatment services.