Who is Peta?
Peta lives with her dog in Melbourne, Australia. She describes her ethnic background as ‘Australian’: like both of her parents, Peta was born in Australia. Her primary source of income is a social security benefit for people living with a disability.* As Peta explains, because she injects drugs alone, hepatitis C isn’t at the ‘forefront of [her] head’, but she feels it ‘would be silly’ for her not to have a test for it in the future.
Peta hasn’t been diagnosed with hepatitis C and doesn’t think about it a lot. She has had tests at different health services over the years but doesn’t recall receiving her results. She explains that concerns about stigma put her off talking about her drug injecting with her doctor and other health professionals. She says that she will get a hepatitis C test soon.
While Peta recalls having a hepatitis C test while staying in the detox service, she can’t remember the details as the staff didn’t explain her results: ‘I think they did [a] blood test and checked it and then left it at that. They didn’t even get back to me and tell me that I didn’t have it, you know what I mean’.
Stigma has had a big impact on Peta. Her contact with healthcare services has been tainted by bad experiences with staff criticising her for consuming drugs: ‘Yeah, previous doctors have said, “Why the hell would you want to do that, it’s disgusting, it’s bad for you, you know, I can’t believe you are doing it”. Like, you know, [they have] really judged me about it’.
According to Peta, having healthcare professionals focus solely on her drug consumption has limited the quality of their advice and her trust in them overall: ‘So […] I have just dismissed [doctors] because every time I went in there for some issue, they all based it back to “it’s because you are using drugs”. You know, every health issue I had, they said it was because I was injecting drugs’.
These days Peta has a doctor she sees regularly, but says that after her experiences of stigma over the years, she doesn’t feel comfortable being completely open about her current drug consumption. This means she isn’t comfortable asking her doctor about issues related to injecting. As she puts it, ‘No, no [I don’t speak to her about injecting drugs]. When I first went to her, I mentioned it and she just said, “Well, we need to do some blood tests”, [but] I don’t know if she did hep C or not […] I said that I was an ex-user because I didn’t want to be judged, because I find there is a big stigma around it still and I don’t like being judged because of it […] That’s just the way it is at the moment, you know. It is what it is, you know, but everyone thinks you are filthy [for injecting drugs]’.
Peta says that it ‘would be silly’ for her not to have a test for hepatitis C soon, but because she injects drugs alone, it isn’t at the ‘forefront of [her] head’.
*Services Australia Disability Support Pension.
Thinking about experiences with her current doctor, Peta (F, 40, no treatment experience) explains that her concerns about stigma limited communication with her doctor.
When I first went to [my doctor in about 2015], I mentioned [my drug injecting] and she just said, ‘Well, we need to do some blood tests.’ I don’t know if she did hep C or not […] When I first went to her, I told her that I did use [but] I said that I was an ex-user because I didn’t want to be judged […] I find there is a big stigma around it still, and I don’t like being judged because of it […] So, you know, it gets hidden, and that’s probably why […] I do hide it – because of the stigma.
Peta (F, 40, no treatment experience) says that despite speaking with her doctor in the past about injecting drugs, they no longer discuss injecting or related issues such as hepatitis C. Peta has heard about the new treatment but doesn’t know any of the details.
I don’t bring the subject [of my injecting] up [any more] and she doesn’t bring the subject up, and I think she thinks I have stopped [injecting]. Unless something comes up in regards to that, you know, medically, that could be affected by [my injecting], I don’t think she will bring it up […] I do know that there have been changes [to hep C treatment], but I don’t know what they are, if you know what I mean. I don’t know anything about it.