Ethical dillemma

The other night, travelling on an evening train, I flipped idly through one of the many copies of MX magazine other commuters had thoughtfully or thoughtlessly left behind them.

An advertisement caught my eye.  I must necessarily quote it from memory as I thoughtlessly likewise left my copy behind when I got off the train.

Are you over 18? Are you a user of cannabis? Do you want an app to monitor and manage your cannabis use? Contact [UNSW contact details given] and we can provide you with one.

There was a bit more about the study that this was for and the app in question.  I must stress that this is only a paraphrase.

Fortunately, I was able to find out more when I got home.

The potential of mobile health to transform health service delivery across the globe has not yet been realised, partly due to the lack of evidence for its efficacy and cost-effectiveness. Among other notable gaps is a lack of trials on smartphone applications (apps) for substance use, including the most commonly abused illegal drug – cannabis. Mobile phones have unparalleled ability to support behaviour change in the natural environment. Given that Australia has the second highest smartphone penetration in the world and that 42% of Australians in drug treatment are concerned about their cannabis use, Australia is well positioned to be at the forefront of building the evidence base for mobile health for treating cannabis use.

And so an app has been developed and is being trialled. These are the claimed benefits:

Seeking treatment for cannabis use can be difficult due to accessibility issues and stigmatisation concerns. The availability of an evidence-based app for reducing or quitting cannabis may encourage treatment seeking among individuals who would otherwise not receive treatment.

“Evidence based” might be great for medicine and for science, but it has a different ring when you are talking about people committing a crime, which drug use still is. Just what attention has been paid at the ethical vetting part of this project’s design to the hazard to which it exposes participants?

Of course, we’re not talking recording a murder in the Belanglo forest, but we are still in a state where at any railway station or bus stop you can be bailed up by police dog squads. Let’s just imagine the dog sits in front of some hapless project participant, but no drugs are found on their person. What’s to stop the police checking their APP and taking things a bit further? And that’s just one scenario of many that come to mind.

I just hope that participants in this project are given ample warnings of the risks that are involved in creating a journal of their offences of any sort. It’s hard to see how the app could not, one way or another, involve something like that.

3 Responses to “Ethical dillemma”

  1. Neil Says:

    Pedant in me rules! So few opportunities to catch you out Marcellous but surely it is “dilemma”!

    • marcellous Says:

      Of course it is, Neil, but there is a pun intended for the sake of which I made a deliberate error. I thought of adding “[sic]” but decided that was a bit heavy handed. PS: glad to see you are still reading me here. Don’t hear so much of you these days from sunny Wollongong.

  2. Andrew Says:

    Your sic was unnecessary. I picked it up. Laws and public behaviour are often in conflict. While I like people to obey laws, it was not so long ago that I broke the law by being a practising, nay almost perfect, homosexual.

    No harm in kids having a bong, surely. Harm in becoming addicted or dependant for sure. What people of a certain age need to know, or recall in my case, is that illegal subs are very good. Yes, they cause myriads of problems, but drug taking is popular for good reasons.

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