Afternoons with Max Marshall – A Short Film on Discrimination & Drug Use

The uptake of hepatitis C treatment among people who inject drugs is approximately 1%.  A potentially lifesaving treatment is available and affordable: So why are so few people who inject drugs not pursuing treatment? When we asked this question to members of our networks (nationally and internationally), stigma and discrimination were the most commonly cited responses.  This is also supported by current research and literature on the issue. AIVL came to understand that until drug user related stigma and discrimination among the general population was addressed, the uptake of hepatitis C treatment would not improve. AIVL also understood that we were the only organisation who would take on the monumental task of developing a public education campaign to try and diminish the stigma and discrimination aimed at our community.

Research conducted by the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board (as far back as the year 2000) found that discrimination against people with hepatitis C was rife.  This research also found that the majority of this discrimination was based on presumptions about an individual’s current, past or assumed injecting drug use behaviour.

AIVL’s funding is provided by the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) to address blood borne virus prevention and treatment within the drug using community. DoHA not only understood the challenges AIVL faced in the development of a public education campaign, they supported AIVL’s belief  that stigma and discrimination on the grounds of drug use had to be addressed prior to tackling issues of stigma and discrimination on the basis of hepatitis C status.

In the campaign’s first year we commissioned market research into the attitudes among people in the general community and the medical profession toward people who inject drugs. The medical profession was included in this market research as they are the sector drug users need to negotiate in relation to hepatitis C treatment. The results were extremely illuminating: most people felt it was ‘right’ to discriminate against people who inject, as it would act as a deterrent to others taking up drug use, and encourage those injecting to cease the behaviour.

Ironically, the market research participants admitted to not actually knowing any injecting drug usrs personally, but they could readily identify the negative personal characteristics of someone who injects drugs. This clearly articulated to us the massive influence the media has in perpetuating stigma against people who inject drugs.

AIVL realised a complete understanding of how the general community’s view of drug use and drug users had come to exist was necessary. We knew that in order to engage an advertising company and expect them to understand all the nuances of the subject from our perspective, we had to provide them with a document that gave them adequate context. The result was a document that gives  an historical, political and social analysis from the perspective of people who inject drugs as to how the ‘War on Drugs’ evolved, and how it impacts on the lives of people who inject drugs today: ‘Why Wouldn’t I Discriminate Against All Of Them –  A Report on Stigma and Discrimination towards the Injecting Drug User Community’.

Armed with a deeper understanding of the history of the demonization of people who inject, AIVL set out to find an advertising company, the right company to help us design and execute a public education campaign. We thought this would be a challenge, until we saw the work of an agency from Adelaide called FNUKY.  FNUKY’s work and approach resonated, so we sent them our brief.  FNUKY understood what we wanted to achieve and believed in it. Their commitment, passion and energy made our task so much easier.

At that time we had little idea of what format the campaign would take; until FNUKY suggested a short film.  We knew from the market research we would have to tackle the subject in a very gentle, non-threatening manner. While ‘Afternoons with Max Marshall’ is suitable for the general public, we targeted the film at a specific section of the community; young people in post-secondary and tertiary education.

This is not a hard hitting, ‘in your face’ style film; it was designed to be a gentle, thought-provoking film that would promote discussion and conversations about injecting drug use, and more importantly the stigma aimed at people who inject drugs.

We hope you enjoy our little film that has a very big job to do!

To check out the official “Afternoons with Max Marshall” website and view the film visit