February 2018

Only in Tasmania: why Myf’s world is different

Myf Briggs suspects she inherited her deep-seated commitment to social justice from her grandmother. It’s always been there; recently Myf found some school reports from when she was in Grade Six that spoke about her strong sense of social conscience.

“I started a debating team … in Grade Six,” she laughs.

Growing up in Hobart, Myf completed a degree in community development and human services, while also aware of the drug culture around her during her developmental years.

“I was growing up in a generation where drugs were widely experimented with and, while a lot of people managed to experiment and use drugs recreationally there were another bunch of people experiencing mental health issues and difficulties with addiction. I guess in a way this ignited an interest in addiction, the psychology of addiction and how often it’s linked with trauma,” Myf says.

Myf volunteered for the Tasmanian AIDS Council where she landed an opening at the NSP outlet. She’s now been working as a Needle and Syringe Program Support Officer for the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services, at the NSP on Hobart’s eastern shore, for eight years and still loves it.

“I just really enjoy it,” she says. “I’m passionate about the work and I love the clients. I love everything about it.”

She admits it takes a certain kind of person to do her job, with the number one, non-negotiable, must-have quality, ahead of anything else, being the ability to be genuinely non-judgemental.

It’s all linked in: not being judgemental, not discriminating, taking everybody at face value.

Myf Briggs

Myf Briggs

“It’s all linked in,” she says. “Not being judgemental, not discriminating, taking everybody at face value.

“Our clients face stigma and discrimination in so many areas that this [the NSP] is the one place where they can come in and talk about anything and know they’re not being judged.

“They might not even talk to their doctor or health professional about things that they know they can talk about here, and so that leads to the harm reduction part of my work. It’s not just the personal side but the physical aspect as well, of just focusing on trying to reduce harm.”

Myf says her NSP outlet is similar to the mainland city ones, with the possible difference that most of the drugs being used in Hobart are pharmaceutical.

“We have a unique drug culture here in Hobart. It’s a little different, because pharma drugs are what most people inject,” she says.

“While some drugs are made here on the Island, there is less access to other drugs that are available in most mainland states, such as heroin. Therefore many Tasmanians use other drugs, such as pharma drugs, although ice has also become more common in recent years, consistent with mainland Australia.”

Over the past six or seven years, Hobart has changed dramatically with the rise of MONA (the Museum of Old and New Art) and the city’s gourmet reinvention as a hub for the bespoke foods and crafts coming out of the island. But Myf says the other, older Hobart, the one with high youth unemployment and other serious social issues, remains underneath.

Her outlet averages 300 or so clients per month and is one of three NSPs in Hobart City, with others in the north of the state.

The boutique, personal nature of the linked Hobart clinics means that Myf and her colleagues can take some novel approaches to their work, such as home-grown snapshot surveys that they use to gain information and data about all kinds of issues.

They conduct the surveys every six months or so, across the city, and Myf says the most recent one was about hepatitis C and awareness around new treatments for the disease.

“We do the surveys to raise awareness but also to build data,” she says. “Over a four-week period, we do a quick, brief intervention with every person who walks in. We asked: ‘Have you heard of the new Hep C treatments?’”

Myf has her sleeves rolled up and has her head down on the challenges. She wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s something she can do to help.

Myf says data collected looks at the status of the Hobart client base. How many are seeking, receiving or have completed treatment? Six months later, they asked again and were encouraged to find that awareness of the new Hepatitis C treatments had risen from 60 per cent to around 80 per cent of clients.

Now, of course, heading into 2018, the challenge is to uncover the other 20 per cent, who still don’t know about the treatments. It might be that the snap surveys didn’t capture the occasional clients, who might turn up once or twice a year, as against the everyday regular clients. Or it could be other communication issues.

Myf has her sleeves rolled up and has her head down on that challenge, along with all the others. She wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s something she can do to help.

Nick Place