Conversation with…Deborah Olow

PhD candidate, NDRI Justice Health Research Officer
July 2022
In every edition of Connections, we ask someone in the alcohol and other drug sector to share a little about their work and life.

This weekend I will...Be hanging out with my two Airedale Terriers, Hugo and Heidi, getting up to all sorts of mischief! My partner, Adrian, has been away for work for two weeks for work, so we’ll go out for some delicious Italian food, and hopefully I’ll be making more headway on my PhD research proposal – fingers crossed. So it’s going to be busy.  

I'll never forget...Meeting Adrian. We were at a mutual friend’s birthday party, and he walked off with the bowl of pretzels for himself. He just wouldn’t share them with anyone. I knew then he was the one. It’s still a better love story than Twilight, right?  

I'd originally planned to a Police Officer with the WA Police – I’d wanted to be a police officer since I was 10. I started my Criminology degree with that intention but got a job as a research interviewer with the DUMA (Drug Use Monitoring in Australia) project in my first year of uni. The job involved going into the Police watchhouse and interviewing detainees about their drug use habits…and getting a urine sample from them. It was very glamourous. That job started my research career and I’ve never looked back.

The qualities I most value in my colleagues are...Honesty, teamwork, integrity, and most importantly a sense of humour – and the quality of morning tea they bring in!

If I had more time, I'd...Get back into tennis competitions, and volunteer at the dog refuge home.  

I can't get enough of...A good banh mi. I can’t go a weekend without one – they know my name and order at the local place!  

I'm really terrible at...Keeping my front lawn alive.

I’m most looking forward to…Flagmantle!

My goal for 2022 is...To survive the first year of my PhD and pass my milestones with flying colours.

Career wise, I’m most proud of...The work I’ve done on numerous projects examining prisoner health outcomes, and lately, the Beyond Violence project here at NDRI. I’m proud of the rapport I’ve built with my participants and the effort I put into my interviews, while respecting the participant’s story. Being able to get out to the prisons and listening to their stories is the best part of my job.

The sector's biggest challenge going forward is...Shifting public attitudes so alcohol and other drug (AOD) use is treated as a public health issue instead of a criminal justice issue. I think some of the general public are convinced that people who use drugs should be locked away in our prisons, which I’d say is mostly because of scaremongering from politicians and the media. Shifting public attitudes and educating the public is a massive challenge within itself.

My big hope for the drug and alcohol sector is...The availability of community-based AOD programs to meet the needs of people who use drugs. Inevitably, some are moved into the criminal justice system because there is nowhere else for them to go. From there, prisons are acting as a revolving door, with many returning to the community without their treatment needs effectively met.