Evidence-based policy is promoted as the ideal in drug policy, yet public policy theorists suggest that policy-based evidence may be a more fitting analogy, where evidence is used selectively to support a predetermined policy direction. The following paper assesses the resonance of this notion to the development of the Illicit Drug Diversion Initiative (IDDI), an apparently pragmatic reform adopted in Australia in 1999 through the Federal Coalition 'Tough on Drugs' strategy. It utilises interviews with key informants from the Australian drug policy arena conducted in 2005 to assess the role of evidence in the design and implementation of the IDDI. The current paper shows that while policy-makers were generally supportive of the IDDI and viewed drug diversion as a more pragmatic response to drug users, they contend that implementation has suffered through a selective and variable emphasis upon evidence. Most notably, the IDDI is not premised upon best-practice objectives of reducing harm from drug use, but instead on 'Tough on Drugs' objectives of reducing drug use and crime. This paper contends that policy-based evidence may facilitate the adoption of pragmatic reforms, but reduce the capacity for effective reform. It therefore has both functional and dysfunctional elements. The paper concludes that greater attention is needed to understanding how to mesh political and pragmatic objectives, and hence to maximise the benefits from policy-based evidence.
- Drug policy