I am very pleased to announce the launch of DrugWise, a new online drug information service carrying on the drug information tradition of DrugScope and – for those of you with long memories – its predecessor, the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence.
As you can imagine, 2015 was a ‘bit of a year’, but with the generous assistance of the field, my colleague Jackie Buckle and I were able to continue with the seamless delivery of DS Daily directly to subscribers, five days a week. We also set up a legacy website so that people would have access to all the reports and information sources of DrugScope. But this did set me wondering.
DrugScope had two main functions; one was to be the advocacy agency for drug and alcohol treatment and focus on the attendant policy issues affecting drug users, such as welfare reform and mental health. The other half of our work focused around general drug information in all its various manifestations, for anybody who needed it – information that was up to date, evidence-based and non-judgmental.
With the demise of DrugScope, the advocacy work was taken up by Collective Voice while Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM) carried on with the related policy issues. But there remained an information vacuum and I was still being contacted by journalists for comment and background on the usual wide range of issues. And so Jackie and I came to the decision to set up DrugWise and with the very welcome assistance of the Brit Trust, the site is now up and running.
DrugWise will perform a number of functions. For a UK audience, we will update and develop drug information from DrugScope, write new thematic reports on topical issues and provide an archive not only of DrugScope reports, but hopefully in time, a complete and searchable archive of Druglink magazine articles back to 1986. The site will also be a platform for the public affairs work I am currently involved in around the issue of prescribed and over-the-counter drug dependency through the All Party Parliamentary Group on Prescribed Drug Dependence and the Opiate Painkiller Dependency Alliance. I will also be continuing the media, lecturing and public speaking work under the DrugWise umbrella.
But the ambition is for DrugWise to be more international and to broaden the focus beyond drugs to alcohol and tobacco. From a health and wellbeing perspective, it has never made much sense to separate out these substances when there are so many synergies in terms of harm reduction, treatment and recovery and education and prevention – and not least because most of those with serious drug problems are also often smoking and drinking.
Certainly across the spectrum of global drug policy, there is a growing demand that policy should be evidence rather than morally-based – and since the advent of e-cigarettes, a public health hearts and minds battle has broken out between experts with all the rancour normally associated with the drugs war. So it seems that now more than ever, it is important for policy-makers and practitioners to have access to the best evidence available across substances and interventions.
One problem though is that the material is often spread across national and international agencies and so what the DrugWise I-Know international knowledge hub aims to do is to try and bring together the most robust and reliable documentation in one place. However, every country has its own health, prevention and criminal justice systems and cultures and so there is no attempt to analyse the material – simply bring it to the attention of professionals across the disciplines.
These are the basic building blocks of DrugWise and despite the solid foundations on which it is built, it is nevertheless early days. But we are very keen to get your ideas and feedback about the service and how you think it might develop – and we will be very keen also to engage in partnerships where drug information and communications input is required.
There is every indication that the treatment sector will be coming under increasing financial pressure, so here’s hoping you all can navigate safe passage through the choppy waters of the coming months.
Contact Harry Shapiro or Jackie Buckle at www.drugwise.org.uk.