Office of Academic Engagement
Founded in January 2016, DPA’s Office of Academic Engagement (OAE) works to bridge the divide between research and effective drug policies. Too often our drug policies are driven by ideology, politics, stigma, greed, and/or racism rather than the evidence about what works. With evidence-based policy and science in general under attack at the federal level, insisting on policy grounded in scholarship and providing policymakers with the tools to access and use research is more important than ever.
Scholars and activists came together to discuss race, reparative justice and the drug war at our White Faces, Black Lives conference (October 2016).
The OAE works to strengthen evidence-based drug policy by:
- Ensuring that the policy campaigns and messaging of DPA and others in the field are supported by the best possible research
- Engaging researchers and scholars in transforming drug policy
- Convening experts across disciplines to address emerging issues and solve some of the complex problems posed by drugs and our responses to them
- Working to make the research environment more supportive of high-quality studies from a wide range of disciplines and perspectives
Working collaboratively with scholars, advocates, and people directly impacted by drugs and drug policy, the OAE uses the following strategies to affect change:
- Providing scholars with tools to be more effective advocates and spokespeople
- Making research more accessible to policymakers, advocates, activists and the general public
- Helping scholars identify opportunities to influence drug policy and connecting them directly to policymakers
- Working with researchers to help them craft policy-relevant research questions and to draw out the policy implications of their findings
- Linking those doing on-the-ground organizing and advocacy to academics so they can work together to better understand problems, evaluate interventions, generate research, and build policy campaigns
- Creating forums to solve new or complex problems and to help “connect the dots” by bringing researchers from across disciplines together with policymakers and those directly impacted by our drug policies
- Raising the profile of and publicizing good research so that it becomes more difficult to ignore
- Critically examining the field of drug policy research to uncover and expose methodological flaws, conflicts of interest, and systemic biases and working to address those
Started by Princeton professor Ethan Nadelmann more than 20 years ago, DPA originated as a think tank called the Lindesmith Center, which nurtured scholars, held a number of landmark conferences, and produced key reports and materials to inform drug policy. The OAE is proud to build on this rich tradition of working closely with academics and scholars to improve drug policy in the U.S.
Too often scientific evidence seems to have little to do with how drug policy gets made. Despite a robust research base and a plethora of talented scholars working on drugs and drug policy, much of our drug policy flies in the face of both reason and research.
For scholars, there are few institutional incentives in academia in the U.S. to engage in advocacy or policy even though many people would like to play a greater role and want their research to have real-world impact. Few scholars are trained on how to communicate effectively with policymakers. Furthermore, getting research to policymakers in a timely fashion is difficult given the near glacial pace of much academic research.
Given this set of problems, we may not be able to completely bridge the policy-research divide, but we certainly can and must do more to ensure that drug policy is better informed by science and scholarship.
We need professors and researchers — policymakers need them, activists need them, and advocacy organizations need them. We need them to help rationalize drug policy and bridge the gap between the evidence about what works and current practice. It’s well past time for a more sensible drug policy grounded in research and science. Scientists and other scholars have a critical role to play.
- If you are a researcher or academic interested in drug policy, please take this very short survey so we can learn more about you.
- Join us for the April 22, 2017 Science March in Washington D.C. The OAE is organizing a contingent to march in support of evidence-based drug policy, treatment, and harm reduction. If you are interested in marching with us or need help with transportation from NYC to DC, please contact Alex at ahatcher [at] drugpolicy [dot] org
- Join us in supporting drug consumption sites, an evidence-based strategy for reducing overdose, blood-borne infections, and linking people to care. Read more about the campaign to bring a Safe Injection Facility to New York and sign a letter to support the campaign.
- We know that criminalization makes it harder for people to get the help they need. Join us in opposing legislation and legal actions that seek to prosecute people who sell drugs for homicide. Read and sign the letter here.
- Attend the 2017 International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. This biennial event brings together over 1,500 people committed to finding alternatives to the war on drugs.
- Intern with OAE to help us engage researchers and academics in DPA’s work and the drug policy reform movement.
Julie Netherland, Director, Office of Academic Engagement
jnetherland [at] drugpolicy [dot] org
Alexandrea Hatcher, Research Associate
ahatcher [at] drugpolicy [dot] org
Following comments by a policymaker that no medical professional would ever support safe injection facilities, the OAE helped generate signatures for a sign-on letter in support of the SIF NYC campaign.
Expanding access to medical marijuana
Working with researchers who demonstrated that states with robust medical marijuana programs have significantly lower rates of opioid overdose deaths, OAE worked to get severe, chronic pain added as a qualifying condition to New York’s medical marijuana program. Researchers submitted testimony, called legislators, and published an influential op-ed on the issue. See the Compassionate Care NY Campaign for more information about medical marijuana in NY.
Opioid addiction treatment legislation
The OAE assisted Chinazo Cunningham, professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center, as she fought to expand access to buprenorphine treatment for opioid addiction. Working with her and key legislators, we helped pass a bill in New York eliminating the requirement to obtain prior authorization from insurance companies to prescribe buprenorphine.
In order to make sure that their research has a wider audiences, we’ve helped academics write and place op-eds in major publications nationwide. Here are a few:
- Drug-War Persecution of Colombian Coca Farmers Is Much Closer to Home Than You Think, Autumn Zellers Leon, PhD – The Influence
- A Doctor's Argument for Letting People Do Heroin in a Safe Place, Aaron D. Fox, MD – the Influence
- It Wasn't Addiction That Killed Prince; It Was America's Stigmas About Addiction, Joanna Starrels, MD, MS and Chinazo Cunningham, MD, MS – Alternet
- Safe, Clean Spaces for Heroin Injection, Julie Holland, MD – NY Daily News
- Medical Marijuana Cuts Use of Deadly Opioid Painkillers, Marcus Bachhuber, MD – Times Union
Tools for researchers
- Perspectives on the Drug Policy Research Landscape (PDF)
- Media Training for Scholars and Researchers (recorded webinar)
Tools for policymakers and advocates
OAE event resources
Novel Psychoactive Substances Summit
White Face Black Lives Conference