Research Priority Areas 2013/14


The National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund (NDLERF) Board of Management allocates funds for research projects which make a practical contribution to enhancing operational or policy-level drug law enforcement activities in Australia.

The NDLERF Board of Management sets its broad strategic funding priorities every year, in order to appropriately consider contemporary Australian drug issues and emerging threats. Within these broad parameters, the Board selects specific priority research topics for that year. The annual funding cycle commences in April/May of each calendar year, when the Fund invites applications for research funding and publishes its current research priority areas.

These strategic priorities and priority topics have been, and will continue to be, developed in the context of a range of other documents and considerations. These include:

  • the National Drug Strategy and related documents;
  • the Directions in Australia New Zealand Policing 2012-2015;
  • the perspectives of the Australian Police Commissioners, law enforcement and board member agencies and the Australian and New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency and its Board;
  • the Council of Australian Governments' directions in relation to drug and alcohol matters;
  • The Australian Crime Commission's Illicit Drug Data Report;
  • The Intergovernmental Committee on Drugs research priorities and work plan; and
  • NDLERF's own environmental scanning processes.

In order to have research conducted which addresses these priority topics, the Board may:

  1. list the topics on the NDLERF website and seek applications from researchers which address the topic areas;
  2. put specific projects, or questions which may arise from time to time, out to tender; or
  3. seek to have specific tasks undertaken by consultants with specialised expertise.

The fact these priorities are in place does not preclude researchers from applying for funds to conduct innovative projects which sit outside the Board's strategic priority areas and/or topics of interest within the priority areas. Researchers should be mindful, however, that in order for such applications to be successful, the potential projects must be of demonstrably greater practical benefit to law enforcement, than the applications received for projects that sit within the Board's established priority areas.

In considering applications for funding, the Board of Management will not only consider the Fund's research priorities or topics, it will also take into account the profile of the proposed projects. This is discussed below.


The NDLERF Board has prioritised four drug types for future research, and these will form the basis for decisions on the funding of projects over the period 2013/14. These are

  • alcohol;
  • illicit drugs;
  • new psychoactive substances; and
  • pharmaceutical and other substances.

The Board is seeking applications for projects which;

  • advance understanding of the operation of licit and illicit substance markets, including interactions between the markets surrounding various substances, and those factors which influence market structures and trends (e.g. the internet, social media and other emerging technologies);
  • describe the specific nature, extent and impact of alcohol and drug abuse and misuse on the community and policing, including the costs to policing;
  • consider the effect of interventions and strategies put in place to counteract the impact of substance misuse, especially the related costs, effectiveness, displacement effects and any unintended effects of these interventions and strategies; and
  • assist in the development of innovative technologies and /or tools, techniques or methods (such as those that access, utilise and link existing data sources) which will enhance the sector's response to drug law enforcement.

The NDLERF Board of Management is seeking applications from researchers that address the following series of topics, which sit within each of these strategic priorities.

2.1 Alcohol

Alcohol remains the major drug problem facing law enforcement in Australia. Over the past decade NDLERF (along with other research agencies) has put a great deal of resources into addressing research questions concerning policing responses to problematic individual premises and precincts. The NDLERF Board of Management now wishes to further consolidate what has been learnt, to better understand what works when addressing alcohol related harms.

Priority research topics for which applications are sought in 2013-14 include:

Research which examines the characteristics of those subpopulations of heavy users of alcohol vulnerable to health, social and crime-related risks, especially subpopulations of young people, to improve our understanding of how best to address harms associated with alcohol misuse (either alone or in combination with other substances, both licit and illicit);

Research which synthesises existing evidence and knowledge to improve our understanding of the determinants of harmful alcohol use and the cumulative impacts and effects of relevant factors (e.g. alcohol availability), to develop an evidence base to guide operational policing strategies, and to inform policy, regulatory and legislative responses to alcohol misuse and related harms;

Research which examines liquor enforcement and intervention strategies used in Australian jurisdictions, to identify best practice and the extent with which this identified best practice can be applied to other jurisdictions; and

Research which examines alcohol misuse in private spaces, improving our understanding and knowledge of the associated harms and costs, and how best to address those harms and costs, especially with respect to:

  • alcohol misuse and domestic and family violence, 
  • alcohol misuse in the context of private parties, including the influence of secondary supply laws.

2.2 Illicit drugs

Although alcohol-related problems remain of significant concern to policing, the NDLERF Board of Management also supports research to ensure policing is cognisant of and responsive to current and emerging illicit drug markets. In particular, the ongoing threat from illicit drugs (including amphetamine-type stimulants and opioids) is a prominent issue requiring research attention.

Law enforcement addresses the harms of illicit drugs through a mixture of demand reduction, supply reduction and harm reduction interventions. One such intervention has been applied through targeting the precursor supply chains for these drugs to disrupt new and established markets. There is still limited understanding of the operation of illicit markets, in particular the extent to which users' behaviour is influenced by law enforcement interventions, or other factors such as changing fashions in drug use subgroups, media portrayal, or education and prevention campaigns. There is also only limited understanding of how supply and demand may move within and between substances in response to changes in the market, or in price or purity.

Notably, much of the distribution of synthetic illicit drugs in Australia appears to be occurring via social networks on a not-for-profit, or low-profit basis (i.e. closed or private markets). This phenomenon is poorly understood, as are the potential points of law enforcement leverage over these markets.

Therefore, for 2013-14, the Board is seeking to commission:

Research into the dynamics, differences and interactions between illicit drug markets and the extent to which they are associated with social harms including organised crime, violence, loss of public amenity or health and safety issues;

Research which examines the effects of law enforcement interventions, especially interventions directed at supply reduction, upon the supply, demand and harms associated with illicit substance use; and,

Research which examines the effects and utility of drug diversion schemes, programs and initiatives, to identify factors that contribute to better outcomes for individuals. Of particular interest is research that improves knowledge and understanding of best practice police drug diversion models. It is understood that not all diversion initiatives are equally effective for all drug involved offenders therefore research that examines the short and long-term impacts of local and international diversion schemes upon subpopulations of offenders is also important in understanding best practice.

2.3 New psychoactive substances

The NDLERF Board of Management is aware that some issues relating to illicit drugs are also relevant to new psychoactive substances, where licit or illicit status is yet to be determined. There is an increasing need to rapidly gain a better understanding of the use of these emerging substances, to enable effective and appropriate law enforcement responses. This understanding should be developed in the context of whole of government approaches to the use and supply of these substances, to ensure the research is complementary and timely.

New psychoactive substances (that are commonly, and often incorrectly, identified as ‘designer drugs’, ‘legal highs’, ‘herbal highs’, or ‘research chemicals’) of particular interest to law enforcement include, but are not limited to:

  • synthetic cannabinoids,
  • phenethylamine based substances, including amphetamine type substances, methylenedioxy-substituted phenylethylamines, 2C type substances, and cathinone type substances
  • tryptamine type substances
  • piperazines; and
  • other Illicit Drug Analogues and Novel Substances (DANS).

For 2013-14, the Board is seeking to commission:

Research which will enhance our understanding of the markets for these substances, including supply routes, characteristics of user groups, the risks and harms associated with use, and the ways in which markets for these new substances may interact with markets for other licit and illicit substances; and

Research into the possible harms of new psychoactive substances, and in particular, whether analogues or mimics of known illicit substances demonstrate similar or different short-term or long-term (acute or chronic) social and health harms. Individual harms will impact upon law enforcement policy and practice. Social harms such as crime, violence and loss of amenity also impact upon policing, and so research projects that consider the harms associated with new psychoactive substances in law enforcement contexts are of specific interest.

2.4 Pharmaceutical and other substances

It is well recognised that Australia has a problem with the misuse of pharmaceutical drugs. It is generally acknowledged that the law enforcement sector's understanding of the extent of pharmaceutical misuse is limited. Issues surrounding pharmaceutical misuse in jurisdictions outside of Australia are significant, and Australia still has a window of opportunity to respond effectively to this growing problem. When considering research projects investigating pharmaceutical misuse, the NDLERF Board of Management will seek applications describing projects that will support whole of government strategic responses and that will not duplicate efforts already underway.

Fundamental questions remain unanswered surrounding the misuse of pharmaceutical drugs and the consequences for law enforcement in general, and for illicit drug markets in particular. Important in this regard is the nature and extent of markets for illicit pharmaceuticals, links with other illicit drug markets and the potential for the profits from pharmaceutical drug markets to facilitate other illicit drug use or crime.

There is also a need for jurisdictionally-based research that focuses on the processes that are in place to share information between law enforcement and health agencies, with a view to minimising the diversion of pharmaceutical drugs.

In addition to pharmaceuticals, the NDLERF Board of Management acknowledges the importance of research into the misuse of other substances, including solvents, aerosols, gases and nitrates. Volatile substance use is entrenched in some socially and economically disadvantaged communities, impacting upon police resourcing and linking to crime within communities. The consequences of other substance misuse present an ongoing challenge to law enforcement.

In 2013-14, the Board is seeking to commission:

Research into pharmaceutical diversion, especially the points in legitimate supply chains at which these substances are diverted for misuse and illegal use, including the volume of diversion at each of these points;

Research into the impact of the misuse and the diversion of pharmaceutical drugs on the individual, on the community, and on police;

Research that investigates differences in jurisdictional regulations relating to the provision of pharmaceutical drugs and the extent to which regulatory frameworks impact on the illicit supply and/or misuse of pharmaceutical drugs; and

Research that considers the impact of the misuse of other substances on communities, and the impact on crime and policing resources.


In addition to prioritising projects on the basis of priority areas and topics, the NDLERF Board of Management will consider prioritising projects on the basis of their research profiles. In other words, in addition to the extent to which projects are consistent with the Board's priority areas (or sit outside the Board's priority areas but are highly innovative and would bring substantial benefits to law enforcement), the Board will be considering two further issues.

The duration of the project

The Board of Management recognises there is a need for research which assists the sector to respond in a timely manner. The area of (particularly illicit) drug law enforcement is a fast moving environment. Consequently, research projects which run over several years can be overtaken by changes in this environment. This means that by the time that projects of longer duration are completed, the findings can be obsolete and of little value. The Board will increasingly seek to fund shorter, rather than longer projects, and in this 2013/14 funding cycle, projects of a shorter duration will be prioritised.

That said, the Board also recognises some research topics may not lend themselves to projects of shorter duration, and in fact, have longer term strategic benefit to law enforcement. Researchers are encouraged to apply for funding for such projects. In doing so, however, applicants must strongly justify the need for lengthy projects and demonstrate the longer-term practical operational or strategic value to the law enforcement sector of the proposed project.

Projects that involve collaboration with law enforcement agencies

Secondly in the future, the Board will also prioritise projects which involve genuine collaboration with the law enforcement sector from their outset. The Fund's strategic directions highlight that it seeks to: enhance strategic alliances and linkages between law enforcement personnel, human service providers, and research agencies; and enhance the role of law enforcement and justice personnel in the research, development, piloting and evaluation of innovative licit and illicit drug law enforcement practices. This collaboration has the dual benefits of grounding the research in the operational or policy realities of the law enforcement environment. It also provides important insights for the law enforcement sector into the workings of researchers and research projects, fosters partnerships and through engagement, enhances the dissemination and uptake of research findings. Researchers should carefully consider this issue in the development of their applications.