In early 2016, when I was drafting my chapter on drugs for the ‘Oxford Handbook of Criminology’, I made a passing reference to Dr John Marks’ heroin prescribing practice in the 1980s. I had assumed that somewhere there would be a definitive summary or account of Marks’ work which I could cite. It soon became apparent that this was not the case. For an episode that has always been so frequently referred to, this struck me as both odd and unsatisfactory. With my Handbook chapter completed soon after, however, I moved on to other things.
At the tail end of 2018, at the start of a period of research leave, I began to think about new projects I might develop. My vague thought was to do something that involved historical research that might lead to a rethinking or reassessment of an important contemporary issue. This led to two ideas: one on cannabis law reform that I will write about another day, and one revisiting John Marks. Arguably the most pressing drug policy issue of the last couple of years has been the crisis of drug-related deaths and Heroin Assisted Treatment has been much discussed as a potential tool for managing it. It seemed to me that filling this peculiar gap I had found in material about Marks could be a perfect vehicle for a project to think historically about a key contemporary policy problem and hopefully generate some new insights.
In the spring of 2019, I wrote to John Marks to share my idea and ask for his support. Had he not responded at all, or responded negatively, I would probably have abandoned the project. In fact, he replied quickly and positively, and offered to help in any way he could. His generosity and openness throughout the project was invaluable. In particular, his donation to me of many of his personal papers took the research up a level from what would have been possible otherwise.
The first stage of the project is now complete and a paper has been published in the International Journal of Drug Policy. I have created a page to house materials on the project and in due course this will include uploads of some of John’s donated personal papers, so that other researchers can also explore this fascinating and important body of work.