What is NCPIC for?

The National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre's conference is on right now in Melbourne. (Follow the action on #cannabisconference15) You might be wondering to yourself, how did NCPIC get started, and what is it actually for?NCPIC logo

Well, it was 2006 and John Howard’s Commonwealth government was on the slide. Christopher Pyne was practicing for his more recent performance, bungling in the dying days of an underperforming government.

That time round he was Minister for Health and Ageing. Illegal drugs were in his crosshairs. ‘The message that the Commonwealth thinks should be sent to the community’ wasn’t being sent and he wasn't happy about it. Take cannabis, for example.

‘I don't think any state right now has a perfect set of cannabis laws,’ he said. ‘We have to treat it as an illicit drug as dangerous as heroin, amphetamines or cocaine.’

At another point he called cannabis 'a poison’ that was ‘destroying our young people.’

Accordingly, in the 2006-7 Budget, $14 million was allocated to establishing a ‘National Cannabis Control and Prevention Centre’. Budget papers explained that

‘The centre will implement Government objectives under the National Cannabis Strategy. This strategy establishes national priorities for improving community understanding of the dangers of cannabis use and for preventing and responding to the use of cannabis and associated problems.’ (you can read the press release here)

Kevin was the man in 07, and in April 2008 Health Minister Nicola Roxon cut the ribbon on what was by then renamed ‘the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre’. It was established at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.

Two years on, the Department of Health and Ageing asked an organization called Urbis to evaluate the performance of NCPIC.

‘The Centre is considered to be highly efficient’ they said after three months research, but ‘it is not clear why the activities conducted will make a difference.’

‘It would have been beneficial' they observed, 'for NCPIC to have undertaken further and stronger strategic planning at [the] initial stage, and then on a continuing basis.’

The consultants pointed the finger at the way the Centre had come about, explaining that

issues in relation to insufficient strategic planning are perhaps not surprising given the context in which NCPIC has come into existence and operated. The tender to run NCPIC was developed in a very short time frame… When NCPIC became fully operational… there was reportedly no strategic planning process… to reconsider whether what had been proposed in the tender was the right kind and mix of activities

Early in 2015 (when this report was not yet public) I became curious about NCPIC and via Facebook I asked them whether the Centre had been evaluated. They said it had been evaluated so I asked what objectives it was evaluated against. ‘As it was an external review,’ I was told, ‘We don't actually know.’

'Sorry, can't help you on that front,' they said when I asked for a copy of the evaluation report. It was 'being used in ongoing decision-making processes’ and so 'had not been made available yet (even to us)’.

That didn’t sound like a great situation, especially five years after the report was written. So using the Right to Know website, I made a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Health and Ageing. For your pleasure, you may now download the report yourself right here (It's called Report 1)

Let’s hope that strategic planning process gets underway soon.

Showing 7 reactions

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  • Gordon Rowland
    In a recent letter to the federal health minister, I included the following:

    " . . . may we receive your assurance that you will appoint an independent panel to review both the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the claims of the Pfizer-backed National Cannabis Prevention Information Centre Prof. Jan Copeland’s advocacy for the cannabis-based drug Sativex? “In 2003, GW Pharmaceuticals and Bayer entered into a marketing agreement for Sativex; that same year, Bayer paid the US government US$257 million, in the then largest Medicaid fraud settlement, and pleaded guilty to overcharging. “In 2011, GW Pharmaceuticals licensed Novartis to market Sativex. The previous year, Novartis had paid US$423 million for criminal and civil liability, for unlawfully marketing six different drugs, and paying kickbacks to healthcare professionals to induce them to prescribe them.”

    Pfizer also has a long criminal record.

    In light of the above, why would anyone trust the National Cannabis Prevention Information Centre?
  • Will Tregoning
    UPDATE: I’ve sent this request to the Department of Health

    ‘Thanks for supplying these evaluations of NCPIC. The Centre has
    subsequently advised me that, in addition to these that you have
    provided, there is a more recent evaluation of NCPIC. They have
    advised that it was published in 2014 and described it as an
    ’industry wide’ evaluation. The Centre has also advised to the
    effect that the evaluations you have provided are superseded by the
    more recent one, and do not reflect more recent changes at NCPIC.
    Could you please provide the 2014 evaluation.’

    All correspondence is accessible here https://www.righttoknow.org.au/request/objectives_and_performance_of_nc
  • Gordon Rowland
  • Will Tregoning
    Thanks Amanda I appreciate the comments, and thanks for letting me know about the more recent evaluation. I’ll take this up with the Department. (A 2011 communications evaluation by Carroll Communications was included in the disclosure but not the 2014 document). You mention that the 2014 document is an ‘industry wide evaluation’ – could you explain what that entails?

    Thanks for that information about the objectives too and yes I’m sure NCPIC has evolved over time. The process by which it was established gives me some concerns though. What I’d like to understand more clearly is how NCPIC is hypothesised to contribute to the harm minimisation mission of the National Drug Strategy, and to what extent those hypotheses are correct.

    For my part, I agree that a version of the current organisation would be more useful in the context of decriminalisation and market regulation.
  • Will Tregoning
    Hi Jan, good to hear from you and glad that you’re staying in touch with the website. David hasn’t written anything exclusively for Unharm so whatever it was would be elsewhere in the public domain. It may be on our site too. Have you tried google?
  • Jan Copeland
    Now that our conference is over I was looking forward to correcting David Penington’s error filled paper that was posted here previously – where is it now located on your site so I can have the opportunity to respond?
  • National Cannabis Centre
    Hi Will

    Just read your recent ‘unharm’ blog questioning the reason for NCPIC’s existence.. no hard feelings! My apologies though, when you ask for the evaluation and we mentioned it wasn’t available yet, we were talking about different reports. The evaluation we told you we hadn’t been privy to was an industry-wide evaluation conducted in late 2014 (not the 2008 report you mention in your blog). There is a more recent one if you want to do another request for information to the Gov so your blog is more up-to-date – no doubt we have have evolved a lot in that time. In-the-meantime, unfortunately we got crossed wires and this has resulted in a bit of an error in your blog – sorry!

    With regards to strategic planning, we actually have a strategic plan each and every year, as we are required to work against a set of objectives specified to us by the Government. As per these objectives, our purpose is to prevent uptake of use, especially in young people whose brains are still developing; and to provide information to the public especially vulnerable groups such as the Aboriginal community; and to provide support and treatment options for those who are seeking help due to issues with cannabis use. Contrary to popular belief, we have no influence on the law, and believe our services would be useful regardless of the legal status of cannabis, maybe even more so if it were to be legalised.

    While I’m at it, I’ll also point out that we are not opposed to medical cannabis, in fact we acknowledge some components of cannabis may have useful medical applications, and whether legalised or not, we strongly advocate for ongoing research to ensure patients have the best options for effective and safe treatment.

    While I appreciate your article and absolutely believe everyone has a right to their own opinion, hopefully this will help you update it and improve its accuracy :)

    The NCPIC team