By Anna Ross, Gary R. Potter, Monica J. Barratt, Judith A. Aldridge

Abstract

Some personal experience of illicit drug use undoubtedly exists within the population of academic drug researchers. But it is rarely acknowledged, and even more rarely reflected upon, in their published work. This is understandable: criminal, professional and social sanctions may follow public admission of illicit activities. However, to not “come out” seems contrary to some core academic principles, such as transparency in data collection and reflexivity in the research process. Coming out may present researchers with an opportunity for improving knowledge of, and policies toward, drug use. In this article, we identify reasons for and against the public disclosure of drug use and the impact of such disclosure across a range of spheres, including research, teaching, policy influence and private lives. Reasons against coming out include the risks of undermining professional reputations and hence the ability to contribute to academic and policy debates, the threat of criminal justice sanctions, and impacts on loved ones. However, coming out can have academic benefit (i.e., improving our understanding of drugs, of people who use drugs, and of drug research) and contribute to activist goals (e.g., de-stigmatization of drug use and demarginalization of people who use drugs). Both the risks and benefits of public drug use disclosure have implications for how research and researchers may influence drug policy. Two key themes, stigma and reflexivity, underpin the discussion. We do not conclude with clear recommendations for drug-using drug researchers; to come out or to not come out is a personal decision. However, we argue that there is clear merit to further open discussion on the role of disclosure and reflection on personal drug use experience among those working in drug research and drug policy—where such reflection is relevant and where such researchers feel able to do so.