Governing street-based injecting drug users: a critique of heroin overdose prevention in Australia Academic Article uri icon


  • This article provides a critical analysis of existing approaches to the prevention of heroin overdose in Australia. It draws on almost 2 years of ethnographic research with street-based injecting drug users (IDUs), street-based sex workers and service providers in Melbourne, Australia's second largest city, and on recent anthropological and sociological work on governmentality. The substantive sections of the article argue: (1) that heroin overdose prevention in Australia contains implicit or explicit assumptions of rationality and personal autonomy, continues to emphasise individual behaviour change and inscribes a self-disciplined, self-aware, self-regulating subject; and (2) that the social, cultural and economic realities--the 'lived experience'--of street-based IDUs and sex workers may undermine or hinder the successful adoption of overdose prevention strategies. The paper concludes by arguing that the 'chaotic' practices of street-based IDUs and sex workers arise in response to particular 'risk environments', and that individually focused overdose prevention strategies, while an important first step, need to be complemented by measures addressing the macro- and micro-aspects of risk environments.

publication date

  • October 2004