Legal responses to ‘addiction’: new research published

SSAC researchers Dr Kate Seear and Associate Professor Suzanne Fraser have just published two new articles on the law and addiction. These refereed publications come out of the ‘Regulating Addictions’ project,  currently in its pilot phase. The project is being led by Dr Seear, who is a SSAC Adjunct and Senior Lecturer in Law at Monash University.

The first article, published in Addiction Research and Theory, explores the range of legal areas within which addiction typically figures. Seear and Fraser point out that while the role of the criminal law in the regulation of drug use and ‘addiction’ is well known, there are many other areas of law in which questions about drug use and addiction regularly figure. In ‘Beyond criminal law’, they argue that alcohol and other drug scholars have often neglected these other legal realms. Using a science and technology studies approach, Seear and Fraser suggest that a comparative analysis of these legal realms is urgently needed. They argue that comparative analyses can help reveal differing, sometimes contradictory, conceptualisations of addiction, addicted subjectivities and the agency and responsibility of the ‘addict’ across different areas of the law, raising important ethical and political questions about these approaches in the process.

The second paper (also co-authored by Seear and Fraser) focuses on one specific area of the law in Australia where addiction regularly figures. Published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, ‘The addict as victim’ explores how crime compensation courts in the state of Victoria conceptualise victims’ drug use and addiction and its relevance to applications for victims of crime compensation. Using Carol Bacchi’s ‘what’s the problem represented to be’ approach (originally developed for critical policy analysis), Seear and Fraser argue that crimes compensation courts conceptualise victimhood and ‘addiction’ as potentially incompatible, and that past drug use may disqualify a victim from seeking state support and care through legislative schemes designed to assist victims to recover from crime. Importantly, however, courts often reconcile this apparent tension by enacting addiction as an effect of trauma, neglect or past abuse (among other things). While this appears to be a relatively sympathetic account of addiction (compared with some in the criminal law, for example) it is not without problems. The authors argue that it has the potential to generate new harms because it pathologises people who use drugs in certain ways. It can also produce a split between ‘deserving and ‘undeserving’ addicts, in that exculpatory narratives about drug use and ‘addiction’ are available to some and not others. Although the analysis focuses on Australia, it has implications for other areas of law and other jurisdictions, raising questions of broad relevance about the role of the law in producing and compounding the very kinds of stigmatisation and marginalisation it purports to alleviate.

The full details of both articles appear below. Please contact the authors if you would like a copy of either publication.

Seear, K.L., Fraser, S.M., 2014, Beyond criminal law: the multiple constitution of addiction in Australian legislation, Addiction Research and Theory [E], vol 22, issue 5, Informa Healthcare, London UK, pp. 438-450.

Seear, K.L., Fraser, S.M., 2014, The addict as victim: producing the ‘problem’ of addiction in Australian victims of crime compensation laws, International Journal of Drug Policy [P], vol 25, issue 5, Elsevier BV, Amsterdam Netherlands, pp. 826-835.

SSAC event Suzanne & Kate