Revisiting Old Memories, Part 3: WIRED

In a previous blog post in this series, I described how Claire Brown of Drink and Drugs News (DDN) commissioned me to write articles for the magazine that she and Ian Ralph had launched. Here is an article I wrote on WIRED (later called Wired In) that was published in that very first issue of DDN (1 November, 2004). WIRED was the grassroots initiative that I developed back in 1999.

‘Up close: WIRED

WIRED is becoming valued as a unique grassroots initiative to tackle drug and alcohol misuse that merges real world activities with a high profile web based communication system. We asked its creator, Professor David Clark, how WIRED developed.

The concept of WIRED was developed five years ago as a way of empowering people to tackle substance misuse. I felt that the internet was not being used innovatively to help the field. Its potential for supporting an integrated resource of information, support, education, training and research, as well as bringing together expertise from both within and outside the field, needed to be realised.

I also knew that WIRED has to be involved in both virtual and real world activities, fostering a strong grassroots initiative which has long-term continuity and stability. My vision was big—very naively so—but then what we are tackling is enormous. As far as I could see there are plenty of people who want to become involved in tackling substance misuse problems but don’t know how to get involved. They need something to which they can belong and contribute.

Our first challenge was learning about the field and gaining an identity. We initially evaluated and supported all projects funded by the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Fund, the largest treatment fund in Wales. This two year project allowed us to work with a large number of high quality projects on the ground. It also emphasised to us the divide that can exist between community services and central government, and the need for a strong bottom-up approach which could be sustained.

Around this time, we also launched Daily Dose. This website is now the world’s leading news portal on substance misuse, with over 2,500 daily subscribers and many other site visitors. Daily Dose is top of 2.7 million listings on Google. We later launched, the content of which included our personal stories, project profiles and original articles, as well as the results of our research. Our personal stories provide important insights into the lives of people who have experienced and recovered from substance misuse problems.

The research we undertake is focused on issues relevant to practice. I am excited that we are able to recruit top students from our university department who go on to love this field and want to contribute more. Our ongoing projects include work on recovery from addiction and the role of treatment processes; the impact of substance misuse on the family; prejudice towards substance misusers, and drug overdose.

One of the most exciting developments has been our link with the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals (FDAP). We have jointly launched Drink and Drugs News magazine (with the publishers, CJ Wellings) and are working to bring a new secure and confidential communication tool (Virtual Outreach) into the field which can be used for assessment, counselling, aftercare and various other forms of support. This unique tool has been developed by Distance Therapy and it will be looked at in more detail in the next issue of Drink and Drugs News. Ultimately, we want Virtual Outreach to link into the web communities we are developing—the first will be for parents and carers of people with a substance misuse problem.

In the past week, Wired has launched a consultancy service to help organisations and communities tackle substance misuse, and linked up with the Beckley Foundation to provide them internet support and marketing for their international drug policy programme.

Who are WIRED? Well, we’re a small group of people from around the country with different backgrounds, most of whom are carrying out this work in their spare time. To date, we have survived with very little funding. It’s been tough at times combining my normal day-time job (university professor) with my role as director of Wired. But it has been exciting and very rewarding working in this field. We’ve had too many ‘balls in the air’, but sometimes you have to over-commit in order to keep a unique initiative going until it attracts funding. My colleagues and I have loved working with clients, families, practitioners and many others. We thank them all.

An important aim of the past five years has been to develop WIRED as a high quality, innovative organisation that is dedicated to best practice. In the coming years, we need a significant financial investment to take the initiative forward in the way that it deserves.

David Clark is a professor in psychology at the University of Wales Swansea. He spent 25 years as a neuroscientist working with the neurotransmitter dopamine, having trained with the Nobel Laureate Professor Arvid Carlsson, before changing career. WIRED comprises a charitable company, Wired International Ltd and Wired Consultancy.’

Sadly, our planned Virtual Outreach initiative didn’t get off the ground, despite considerable interest from those working at the ‘coal face’ in helping people overcome substance use problems, due to the fact that we could not raise funding. More about that in a future blog post.

The above photograph is of me with Dave Watkins (Left) and Keith Morgan of WGCADA (and his two children), two people who inspired me so much during my early Wired In days. It was taken in Reynoldston, Gower, South Wales, at my farewell before I moved to Perth, Western Australia, in December 2008.