I’ve dabbled with drugs i.e. speed, acid and cannabis since I was a teenager and I started using Heroin in 1989 (when the Heroin was still good). I was 25. My partner and I moved to Queensland in 1991 to escape our habits but of course our habits followed us and we ended up at Biala to access the Methadone program.
It was my son’s first birthday and we spent the day at Biala getting blood tests etc, filling the criteria to get on the program. The nurse when giving us our blood test results said “are you two aware you have Hep C?” We responded “What the fuck’s that?” She replied “It used to be called Non A Non B Hepatitis” We replied what the fuck’s Hepatitis?” She explained it was a virus of the liver. We wanted to know “will this stop us using?” She said “no”. So we wondered why she was bothering us with this useless information and we didn’t want to know anymore about it. This worked out well because the nurse never offered any further information about Hepatitis; such as how it was transmitted and how not to pass it to someone else. No counselling or support of any sort was offered at this time.
It wasn’t until 2003 when I’d stopped injecting and had survived homelessness, jail and the methadone program that my Hep C began to make itself known to the rest of my body. Luckily I had access to support and accurate information around Hep C. I still wasn’t considering treatment because of the criteria. In 2004 when liver biopsies were removed from the criteria I considered treatment for the first time. After plenty of research and encouragement from colleagues I decided to commence treatment. Geno Type 3 only 6 months worth of treatment. “The best Type to have” my doctor said, I thought * Bullshit I feel like crap.
However three years later I’ve cleared the virus and am working in the industry where I can be most supportive of others going through treatment or living with Hepatitis C. The education I offer reduces the risk of transmission for people who choose to inject. I have travelled many walks of life from the full “junkie experience” (and I say that with love) to sex work and crime. I was bought up by a Barrister and Physiologist (no wonder I became an addict) and have been very well educated.
When it comes to discrimination, what I found strange was who discriminated the most. To be honest I experienced very little (in fact no discrimination) from family, friends, my community, but a lot from police, doctors, nurses. I figured this was because your average Joe doesn’t know anything about Hep C, so they are more curious than anything else and I could tell them I got it from a mozie bite or bad batch of Weet Bix for that matter and they would believe me (for the record- I always told people the truth, if they asked). On the other hand the medical profession at the time of my diagnosis (and for many years after) knew a tiny bit about Hep C and that tiny bit included the fact at least 80% of Hep C positive people contract it through injecting drug use and it never occurred to any medical person I came into contact with that I might be in the other 20% (which of course I wasn’t but still).
I have also learnt you can never really pick who will discriminate and who won’t and I’ve learnt you can’t really judge people who discriminate too much as they are simply uneducated and need to be pitied (and educated) rather than scorned.
Never the less treatment was one hell of a journey where I discovered a lot about myself and others. I would encourage anyone that is able to give it a go. The treatment was no picnic in the park but it was very doable. And side effects aren’t forever.
P.S I cleared the virus.