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Gender, culture and harm: an exploratory study of female heroin users of Vietnamese ethnicity.

Higgs P, Owada K, Hellard M, Power R, Maher L

  • Journal Culture, health & sexuality

  • Published 31 Dec 2008

  • Volume 10

  • ISSUE 7

  • Pagination 681-96

  • DOI 10.1080/13691050802203838


Previous quantitative cross sectional studies of ethnic Vietnamese drug users in Melbourne have been overwhelmingly drawn from samples of men. In this qualitative investigation, 24 women aged between 18 and 33 years were interviewed. This exploratory study sought: to identify issues surrounding heroin initiation and drug use career; to examine relationships with family and primary sex partners; and to reveal participants' attitudes to drug treatment. Data reveal that for the women in this study the initiation and continued use of heroin was heavily influenced by men, especially their primary sex partners. The women interviewed reported strategies to minimise their risk taking including enrolling in pharmacotherapy treatment programmes, but they remained particularly vulnerable - especially to blood borne viruses - through both injecting and sexual risk behaviour. The data suggest that interventions which focus on the gendered nature of injecting practices within personal relationships may go some way to both reducing harm and increasing control for the women involved.