Publications & Reports

Experience as evidence: The prospects for biographical narratives in drug policy

Valentine K, Persson A, Newman CE, Hamilton M, Bryant J, Wallace J.


Programs and policies are increasingly framed by the logics of “evidence-based policy,” a term subject to critical scrutiny and change after it emerged as an explicit valuing of specific types of quantitative data as objective, and a devaluing of most types of qualitative data. The transfer of “evidence-based” approaches to drug policy was mobilized by a distrust of people who use drugs, and of people who work with them. This distrust remains important, but contemporary policy also mobilizes individual narratives and lived experience through the growing use of biographical stories. Contemporary drug policy, like other policy areas, is also increasingly constituted by changing forms of technology, through new types of data use and data linkage, and of digital and social media. In this article, we consider the current and likely future impacts of changes to policy. We examine two Australian policies: the Australian Priority Investment Approach to Welfare (Try, Test and Learn), and the child protection reform, Their Futures Matter. Both use the “investment approach” to calculate policy costs and aims, represent important developments in the policy figuring of populations, and affect the well-being of many people who use drugs. Based on analysis of these policies, and interviews with people who use drugs who participated in a qualitative study on blood-borne virus serodiscordance, we ask, what are the likely effects, risks, and benefits of these changes for people who use drugs and others subject to public scrutiny and distrust? We argue that as long as the stigmatization of drug use remains prevalent, it is unlikely that the potential for more sophisticated and just recognition of the complexity of drug use will find a place in the forms of information and knowledge recognized in policy as evidence.

Link to publisher’s web site


  • Journal: Contemporary Drug Problems
  • Published: 10/04/2020
  • Volume: 47
  • Issue: 3
  • Pagination: 191-209