When faced with the opportunity to conduct policy-relevant research on illicit drugs, the most obvious question is: What are the current priorities? This project set out to identify the priority areas in illicit drugs from the perspective of government policy makers.
The impetus for the work was the second stage of the Drug Policy Modelling Program (DPMP), a research program aimed at improving the evidence-base for Australian drug policy. The identification of priority areas can inform the DPMP workplan for the next five years. Whilst the project had this overt purpose, the findings are also useful for a number of audiences other than the DPMP research team.
It will be of interest to funding bodies and committees that consider illicit drug policy – to review the extent of concordance between the priorities raised here by bureaucrats and those of their own funding body or committee.
It is also rich fodder for those seeking a relevant research topic – it will hopefully engage and excite a researcher or new student to pick up a drug-related research area.
Finally, it provides a snapshot of the state of play as at 2006 – hopefully in a few years time we will be able to tick off some of the areas, assess progress on relevant research, or review the extent to which priorities have changed over time.
A restricted definition of ‘policy maker’ was used here – government officials (bureaucrats) who develop and implement policy. This is not to imply that there are not others substantially influential in the “policy community” including practitioners and researchers, members of government advisory bodies, elected officials and other significant policy advice groups (such as the ANCD). Indeed, other exercises in establishing research priorities have frequently encompassed the research community or broader policy community. The choice to focus only on public servants was deliberate: policy making is core business for this group; theirs is a voice often not solely focussed on; and they are an important key stakeholder to the DPMP. It would be interesting to conduct a corollary study of the other members of the policy making community and assess the degree of similarity and difference from the views identified here.
The report focuses on illicit drugs, and excludes alcohol and tobacco. A few respondents noted that the licit drugs had a higher priority overall than the illicit drugs.
Australia has a good policy making track record in illicit drugs, with the use of evidence, solid processes within the structures and a number of important and unique features, such as the cooperation between health and police that make Australia stand out. This report identifies what is not known and problems associated with policy development processes, but should not be taken to be critical of current Australian drug policy.