5 minutes with Dr. Monica Barratt

This the first in (I hope) a series of articles about the work of some of the best and brightest in the alcohol and other drugs/harm reduction sectors.  This week we commence the series with Dr. Monica Barratt writing about her work as a Melbourne based alcohol and other drugs researcher with an interest in the impact of technology upon drug use and drug markets.  You can follow Monica on Twitter: @MonicaBarratt

Tell us about your work…

In my role as research fellow at the National Drug Research Institute, I conduct academic research about new digital and networked technologies in the drugs field. Rather than focusing on developing online or smart-phone interventions, my work is concerned with how drug trends are changing within the increasingly internet-saturated societies that we live in. For example, in the last few years, anonymous online marketplaces have developed where illicit drugs are bought and sold using encrypted currency and employing the postal delivery system, and newer synthetic drugs sold as legal highs are continually being introduced into drug markets – as a confluence of increased availability of information, equipment, technologies and global distribution networks; and in response to the prohibitions on more traditionally known drugs. In both of these cases, the internet has both facilitated and accelerated the flow of information, communications and goods/services, making the issues more challenging for policy markers.

While my work is mainly in researching these issues, I find myself increasingly engaging publicly through mainstream and alternative media, including recently providing evidence to the NSW parliamentary inquiry on newer synthetic drugs. I also see digital networked technologies as providing an important and much needed opportunity to level the power balance between ‘experts’ and the public, because through online forums and social media, people can and do talk back directly to experts in ways that were less common decades ago. My work is based on the concept of participatory engagement: that research participants should have more input and control over the kind of research that is conducted, and that online communication can support participant engagement if the researcher approaches the communication respectfully and with a genuine interest in the position of the participant (in this case, the ‘drug user’). I am also keen in my research to emphasise that we are all drug users (almost all of us) and that altering our conscious state through psychoactive substance use or through other activities is a historically normal part of human experience. Stigma and discrimination against people who use currently prohibited substances is a reality that I am upset and ashamed about – and I hope that through presenting my research findings and continuing to have public discussions, I can have some positive influence on the public discourse about drugs, drug use and drug users.

Sum up harm reduction in 140 characters or less…

Harm reduction is accepting people where they are at and helping them with what they need right now, without judgement.

Tell us about your favourite online harm reduction resource (other than Stonetree)

One of my favourite online resources is Bluelight.ru – disclaimer, I am the Director of Research at Bluelight.ru which means I manage Bluelight’s engagement with drugs researchers. Bluelight has been operating for 13 years now and continues to have a thriving international community of people discussing all aspects of drug use. Bluelight as an organisation is keen to continue to match researchers with hidden populations of drug users so that we can all contribute to better understanding of drug practices and the problems that can arise from drug use. Bluelight has a large group of volunteers who moderate the forum and who are very knowledgeable in this area. The forum is also a great place to read about experiences with new emerging drugs and to discuss nuances of how the law works in different parts of the world. If you haven’t explored Bluelight yet, I recommend you spend a few hours looking around 🙂

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