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Social construction and the evidence-based drug policy endeavour

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Date Commenced:
Expected Date of Completion:
Project Supporters:

Australian Postgraduate Award

Project Members: 
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Associate Professor Kari Lancaster
Scientia Associate Professor
Project Main Description: 

‘Evidence-based policy’ has become the catch-cry of the drug policy field. A growing literature has been dedicated to realising the goal of ‘evidence-based’ drug policy: to maximise the use of quality research to inform decision-making and help answer the question of ‘what works.’ The aim of this project was to problematise the premise of the ‘evidence-based policy’ paradigm and, by interrogating underlying taken-for-granted assumptions, consider the implications and effects of this dominant mode of governance for drug policy.

Project Collaborators: External: 

Professor Carla Treloar
Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW


By examining the productive techniques and constitutive effects of both drug policies and ‘evidence-based policy’ discourse, this research revealed how policies constitute the ‘problems’ they purport to address and the discursive, subjectification and lived effects that flow from particular problem representations; how knowledge (‘evidence’) is legitimised and constituted by specific performances; and how political subjects (such as ‘consumers’) are enacted in the material-discursive practices of ‘evidence-based policy’.

Design and Method: 

This research was informed by a range of critical perspectives, particularly the work of Carol Bacchi (whose Foucauldian-influenced approach is underpinned by social construction theory, poststructuralism, feminist body theory and governmentality studies). A qualitative multiple-case study design was employed, comparing three drug policy issues in Australia: (i) discussion of ‘recovery’ approaches to drug treatment; (ii) the development of approaches to extend distribution of injecting equipment through peers in Sydney; and (iii) processes leading to the establishment of programs to make naloxone available to opioid overdose witnesses in Canberra and Sydney. The case studies drew on documentary sources and semi-structured interviews (n=41) with policy makers, advocates, researchers and clinicians closely involved in these processes.





  1. Lancaster, K. (2014) Social construction and the evidence-based drug policy endeavour, International Journal of Drug Policy, 25(5), 948–951.
  2. Lancaster, K. & Ritter, A. (2014) Making change happen: a case study of the successful establishment of a peer-administered naloxone program in one Australian jurisdiction, International Journal of Drug Policy, 25(5), 985–991.
  3. Lancaster, K., Seear, K., & Treloar, C. (2015). Laws prohibiting peer distribution of injecting equipment in Australia: A critical analysis of their effects. International Journal of Drug Policy, 26(12), 1198-1206.
  4. Lancaster, K., Duke, K., & Ritter, A. (2015). Producing the ‘problem of drugs’: A cross national-comparison of ‘recovery’ discourse in two Australian and British reports. International Journal of Drug Policy, 26(7), 617-625.
  5. Lancaster, K. (2016). Confidentiality, anonymity and power relations in elite interviewing: conducting qualitative policy research in a politicised domain. International Journal of Social Research Methodology (Advance online publication), DOI: 10.1080/13645579.2015.1123555.
  6. Lancaster, K. (2016). Performing the evidence-based drug policy paradigm. Contemporary Drug Problems, 43(2), 142-153.
  7. Lancaster, K., Treloar, C., & Ritter, A. (in press, accepted 12/11/2016). “Naloxone works”: The politics of knowledge in ‘evidence-based’ drug policy. Health.
  8. Lancaster, K. (2016). Rethinking recovery. Addiction (Advance online publication), DOI:10.1111/add.13552.

By scrutinising the premise and effects of ‘evidence-based policy,’ and highlighting the contingent nature of ‘problems,’ ‘subjects’ and the object of ‘evidence’ itself, this research contributes to a body of poststructuralist scholarship which has used the ‘problematisation’ framework to examine the political implications of the taken-for-granted status of ‘evidence-based policy’ discourse, leading to considerations for how drug policy and ‘evidence’ may be brought to bear.

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