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Problematic drug use

Research project DR/11 (Research action DR)


Persons :

  • M.  KAMINSKI Dan - Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/12/2003-31/8/2004
  • Prof. dr.  DECORTE Tom - Universiteit Gent (RUG)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/9/2003-31/10/2004

Description :

1. Research Context

In the Federal Note on Drugs (Federale Drugnota, 2000)(1), 'problematic use' has been described as a 'pattern of use that is beyond one's control'. At that time, it has been indicated that this concept would be clarified in a bill, a Royal decree and a circular for the police and the public prosecutors.

We find this clarification in the new art. 11 § 2 of the Drug Law, that was added by art. 16 of the Law of the third of May 3003 (2): 'use that involves a degree of addiction that no longer renders the user the possibility to control his use and that is manifested by psychological and physiological symptoms'.

Resulting from this vague definition, the concept of 'problematic use' remains very subjective and open to interpretation. Therefore, it is an absolute necessity that this concept should be explained and made more operational. However, labelling a certain use of drugs as 'problematic' is a complex phenomenon.

2. Research aims

This research sets out to chart the concept of ‘problematic use’. The study aims to achieve the following specific research aims:

(1) clarifying the concept ‘problematic use’
(2) gaining insight in the definition and the constitutive elements of the concept ‘problematic use’
(3) implementing the concept ‘problematic use’

3. Research Description

This research consists of two components: an analysis of scientific literature and a qualitative empirical study that involves the different fieldworkers.

The first part of this research project is a literature search that includes the Belgian (in Dutch and French) as well as the foreign scientific literature. In doing so, official (policy) documents, literature based on empirical research and theoretical analyses concerning the addiction phenomenon and various patterns of drug use will be used. Our analysis of scientific literature will deliver -on the one hand- an accurate image of the evolution of scientific constructs concerning addiction and problem use, and -on the other hand- a detailed analysis of possible indicators of problematic forms of (illegal and legal) drug use. Moreover, attention is given to scientific and grey literature from the various relevant sectors (social services, prevention, police, justice), as well as sources that describe certain patterns of drug use as ‘NON-problematic’ or ‘controlled’.

The second part of this research consists in an empirical study. This has two objectives:

(1) the assessment of the (explicit) vision(s) and the (often implicit) definitions of the experts in the field (prevention, social services, police and magistrates), and
(2) the elaboration of operational definitions through dialogue with these relevant actors. Since the phenomenon of problematic use is situated at different levels, we will take the following three sectors into account during our fieldwork.

The first relevant are health services, i.e. assistance services for drug users, since the concept of 'problematic use' is directed to those drug related problems that influence the user (in contrary to the notion of 'public nuisance' that addresses the harm the user's environment experiences).
Secondly, this concept is relevant for the administration of justice: in the 'Federal Note on Drugs' (Federale Drugsnota), it is considered a discriminating notion in the criminal prosecution of drug users.
Thirdly, police officers use this concept: they decide what will happen to users. The empirical section (i.e. the interviewing of the fieldworkers) builds on earlier research experiences and extensively tested research techniques. Field experts will be interviewed in focus groups, and asked to comment on (both real life and fictitious) cases of drug use.


Coordinator: Prof. Dr. Tom Decorte
Institute for Social Drug Research (RUG)
Research partner: Prof. Dr. Dan Kaminski
Department of Criminology and Penal Law (UCL)

(1) FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, Policy note of the Federal government on the drug problems, (in Dutch), 19 January 2001.
[http://www.health.fgov.be/vesalius/factory/DRUGS/NL/Drugsnota-NL.pdf]
(2) Law of the third of May 3003 that changes the Drug Law of the 24th of February 1921.


Documentation :

A study of the operationalisation of the concept in a legal context : summary    Brussels : Federale Science Policy, 2004 (PB1421)
[To download

Problematisch gebruik van (illegale) drugs : onderzoek naar de operationalisering van het concept in een wettelijke context : eindrapport = L'usage problématique de drogues (illégales) : recherche concernant l'opérationnalisation du concept dans un contexte légal : rapport final  Decorte, Tom - Kaminski, Dan - Muys, Marjolein ... et al  Gent : Academia Press, 2005 (PB6114)
[To download]  [To order

Une recherche de l'opérationnalisation du concept dans un contexte légal : résumé    Bruxelles : Politique scientifique fédérale, 2004 (SP1419)
[To download

Onderzoek naar de operationalisering van het concept in een wettelijke context : samenvatting    Brussel : Federaal Wetenschapsbeleid, 2004 (SP1420)
[To download

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