The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) will mark its 25th birthday with a celebration of its ground breaking achievements in reducing drug and alcohol harms in Australia.
The institution has built its reputation as a Research Centre of Excellence since 1987, a time when Australia was sorely lacking in home-grown evidence on the harms stemming from drug and alcohol misuse. Since its establishment with core funding from the federal government, NDARC has produced policy-changing evidence on a wealth of topics, most notably on harm minimisation strategies such as needle and syringe programs and treatment options such as methadone maintenance programs.
Twenty five years on and Australia leads the world in the minimisation of the spread of HIV and the transmission of blood borne diseases such as Hepatitis C. NDARC’s work – such as evaluations of harm minimisation efforts, of heroin overdose, and the annual tracking of illicit drug trends – has contributed to this achievement.
Yet, there is so much more to be done.
In Australia today, alcohol and drug related illnesses account for the third largest burden of disease behind cardiovascular disease and cancer. The latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey revealed one in five Australians drink at levels that put them at risk of harm over their lifetime, and approximately 3.3 million Australians are smokers. When it comes to illicit drugs, one in ten surveyed reported using cannabis in the year prior to the survey, and over 14 per cent reported illicit drug use in the same period.
Add to that the emergence of new chemical substances, the internet as a supply medium, the explosion in prescription opioid drugs like oxycontin and increased recognition of the links between substance abuse and other disorders, and the need for continued investment in drug and alcohol research becomes clear.
NDARC director Professor Michael Farrell said the challenge for the future is to further increase our understanding of harm prevention strategies; embrace the opportunities provided by new technologies; and utilise large cohort studies that follow individuals from birth to early adulthood to improve our knowledge of the natural course of addictions.
“In the forthcoming decade, the alcohol and other drugs sector needs to take a leaf out of the cardiovascular and cancer research fields, with their emphasis on prevention and treatment and their harnessing of technological innovations,” Professor Farrell said.
“NDARC has already expanded its focus from cross-sectional research studies and randomised controlled trials to include a greater number of large cohort studies.
“These studies will help to increase our understanding of the mechanisms of resilience and prevention. We need to understand these mechanisms so we can fashion interventions at younger people and can prevent the onset of lifelong conditions.”
Also in the Centre’s sights is increased research into the neurobiological underpinnings of addiction.
“We need to understand the dynamic between nature and nurture and how it shapes the course of lifelong conditions,” Professor Farrell said.
NDARC’s capacity to undertake such work in coming years has been assured with the awarding of a share of $24 million in drug and alcohol funding from the federal government. Also secured this past month was $2.5 million in funding for a new Centre of Research Excellence, dedicated to producing evidence on substance use disorders and comorbidity.
These funding successes and NDARC’s 25 years will be formally celebrated at the NDARC Annual Symposium on 28 August 2012. NDARC director Professor Farrell will be joined by a previous director, Professor Wayne Hall, to reflect on the changes NDARC has achieved in the past quarter of a century. Media are welcome to attend.