Social controls, harm minimisation and interactive outreach: the public health implications of an ethnography of drug use Academic Article uri icon


  • This is a report on ethnographic research with the members of a social network of young, recreational, illicit drug users in Perth, Western Australia, with whom I maintained close social interaction for over twelve months. Following the work of Zinberg, the article outlines some of the main social controls employed by these young drug users to reduce drug-related harm. These social controls are of two types: sanctions (the rules prescribing certain behaviours and proscribing others) and rituals (the stylised behaviour surrounding the use of drugs). There exists an ideology of harm minimisation amongst drug users which may provide the basis for innovative programs. The implications of these findings are discussed with reference to one particular public health strategy, outreach, and the possibility of a more active, reciprocal and beneficial engagement between drug users and researchers, health educators and policy makers is suggested.

publication date

  • January 1, 1993