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Ethical Issues in research into alcohol and other drugs submission

Personal Details
Organisation Name: 
Burnet Institute
C. Additional Information
Please identify the best term to describe the Organisation: 
Biomedical research institute / organisation
General Comments

This submission is made on behalf of the staff and students of the Burnet Institute. The Institute is one of Australia’s leading Medical Research Institutes (MRIs). It is unique among MRIs as it has NGO status. The Burnet Institute aims to achieve better health for poor and vulnerable communities in Australia and internationally through research, education and public health. In accordance with these aims the Institute has a long history of research and service with people who use alcohol and other drugs. We have traditionally had a focus on people who inject drugs, some of whom are among the most marginalised members of the community, but also examine issues connected to the use of other drugs such as alcohol. The Burnet Institute is the Administering Institution for the NHMRC-funded Centre for Excellence into Injecting Drug Use (CREIDU). We endorse the CREIDU submission and highlight our belief that establishment of the proposed guidance framework is unnecessary and could potentially further marginalise and stigmatise participants in AOD research.

We would like to re-state the position specified in the CREIDU submission around the National Statement: “The National Statement covers all of the issues relevant to AOD research. The issues raised in the public consultation document are not unique to AOD research.”

We would also like to reiterate the fact that community engagement is rarely funded, either as part of the remit of community organisations or as part of research grants. This means that engagement typically occurs through the goodwill of organisations and individuals involved in research, including AOD research. We would argue that funders of drug user representative and other community organisations need to recognise the unique contribution that these organisations play in research consultation. This engagement needs to be funded.

One possible implication of the proposed AOD specific  guidelines is the development of separate processes for ethical review of AOD research. For example, outcomes from the Community Ratification pilot being undertaken in New South Wales  detailed in the Public Consultation Document may have implications for some of the processes undertaken by Ethics Committees. The pilot is not complete - we await its outcome with interest. We would have reservations about the establishment of a separate review process such as that which exists for projects involving people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds - it would be difficult to identify community representatives suitable to assess the range of drug using behaviours that are the subject of AOD research (e.g. binge drinking). Irrespective, we would again make the point that community involvement in any of these kinds of processes needs to properly funded.

Page reviewed: 26 October, 2012