Drug Policy: Human Rights & Harm Reduction

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Born and brought up in a close-knit poor working class area of Liverpool (Anfield), second eldest of five children, my mother grew up in Toxteth, Liverpool, while my father, a passionate and deeply committed Trade Unionist came over from Ireland. He died of a sudden heart attack, when I was twelve years old. This shocking life change placed our family unit at risk, but it also provided a ‘rich’ (but unwanted) experience and insight into poverty, discrimination and exclusion, that has forever shaped my approach to life.

Disenchanted, disengaged and struggling with the rigidity and conformity of education, I left aged 16 with few qualifications, but I retained a strong interest in social welfare, justice and inequality and managed to secure employment at Liverpool Social Services in 1974. Employment provided an excellent foundation for negotiating a difficult transition from adolescence to adulthood, while the employer funded day-release study helped me to realise the benefits of lifelong adult education. After moving through the ranks of a number of administrative and managerial posts in Social Services I  pursued a new career in social work when I joined the Merseyside Probation Service and qualified as a social worker/probation officer at Liverpool University in 1983.

In the mid 1980s I worked at the ‘coalface’ as a drugs worker at a time when the country was overwhelmed by the ‘heroin epidemic‘ and was instrumental in conceptualizing and promoting an alternative ‘risk reduction’ approach (Buchanan & Wyke 1987) challenging the dominant abstinence approach. Our risk reduction philosophy was adopted by Merseyside Probation in a new drug policy document and as a founder member of one of the largest multi-agency community drugs teams in the UK (the South Sefton Drugs Team) – we provided a full range of harm reduction services: free needle exchanges, free condoms, methadone and heroin maintenance prescribing, injectable prescribing, prison relapse prevention, access to detox beds, acupuncture, residential rehabs and counselling.

I left probation work to further my research and writing as Lecturer at Liverpool University, then Senior Lecturer at University of Central Lancashire (England) and Glyndwr University (Wales) where I was eventually appointed Professor. In 2011 pursuing a lifestyle change I moved to the Institute of Criminology Victoria University of Wellington, (New Zealand).

Throughout my career I have maintained a strong interest in the interplay between: inequality; crime; problematic drug use; and drug policy/practice. I’ve published widely and addressed numerous international conferences on these issues, acted as expert assessor for international journals and worked as a Consultant and Independent Expert for the UNODC.

I retired in January 2016.

Julian Buchanan, CPA, DipSW, MA, PhD, FHEA.

Editorial Assessor

  • Specialist Assessor: Criminology & Criminal Justice (Sage)
  • Specialist Assessor: Addiction Research and Theory (Informa)
  • Specialist Assessor: International Journal of Drug Policy (Elsevier)
  • Specialist Assessor: Journal of Youth Studies (Routledge)
  • Specialist Assessor: Policy & Politics Journal (Policy Press)
  • Specialist Assessor: Journal of Social Policy (Cambridge Journals)
  • Specialist Assessor / Ex-Deputy Editor: Probation Journal (Sage Publications)
  • Editorial Advisory Board Member: British Journal of Community Justice
  • Series Editor: Issues in Criminal & Community Justice Monographs (ICCJ)

External Advisor

  • Independent Expert for UNODC, Vienna, Austria
  • Consultant, UNDOC, Vienna, Austria
  • External Examiner for Addiction Studies, Trinity College, Dublin
  • External Examiner for the MA Criminal Justice, Liverpool John Moore’s University
  • External Examiner for PhD Viva Keele University ‘Social capital, probationers and drug interventions’
  • Independent Scientific Opinion Health Research Board (Ireland) An Bord Taighde Sláinte ‘Social reintegration and drug use’
  • PhD Supervisor and Examiner
  • Independent Scientific Opinion, Department of Health (England) Policy Research Programme, ‘Early Exit: Estimating and explaining early exit from drug treatment’
  • External Assessor, Hope University, 5 year review, BA Criminology
  • External Assessor, Hope University, 5 year review, MA Criminal Justice
  • HSCSR Studentship Award Scheme External Referee, Northern Ireland Research & Development Office


Follow me on Academia.edu//a.academia-assets.com/javascripts/social.js



  1. Piet says:

    Thank you Julian for your intelligent, relevant and erudite comments. If only the law-makers were so well equipped………………. Piet


  2. I really liked the Prezi (NZ drug policy symposium) you posted on twitter. You named some interesting people from the lake district. Here is a link to show you the house where Thomas De Quincy lived and where Samuel Taylor Coleridge died with Wordsworth by his side. I have an interest in the lives of the poets of the lakes and have been a drug worker since 1995.
    I hope you like it http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2325792


  3. Matt Riley says:

    Hi Julian, love your banner. I think prejudice and discrimination are two important words which need to be brought into the public realm in connection with how society treats drug users. Persecution is another word I like…

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Persecution is the systematic mistreatment of an individual or group by another group. The most common forms are religious persecution, ethnic persecution, caste system and political persecution, though there is naturally some overlap between these terms. The inflicting of suffering, harassment, isolation, imprisonment, fear, or pain are all factors that may establish persecution.


  4. Hi Julian.

    I took one of your papers last year and it is still to date the most interesting and engaging paper I have taken. You are an outstanding lecturer. Victoria University is going to be poorer without your presence.

    All the best,

    Te Rena Williams


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