The Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs

Vale James Rankin

Dr James Gerald D’Arcy Rankin: A Pioneer in Healthcare and Social Change

The following link has been set up for members who would like to pay tribute to Dr James Rankin’s memory.

Jim Rankin sml

 APSAD is deeply saddened by the loss of one of our founders and first President Dr James “Jim” Rankin. Jim was a man of extraordinary humility, practicality, and forward-thinking vision. His passing has left a void in the 

realms of medicine and social policy, one that will be deeply felt. He wasn’t just a physician; he was a relentless advocate for harm reduction and a true trailblazer in the study and treatment of alcohol and drug-related issues. Dr Rankin’s unwavering dedication to improving the lives of individuals facing alcohol and drug-related health challenges has made an indelible mark on healthcare not only in Australia but far beyond.

Jim’s journey began in Sydney, Australia, where he graduated from the University of Sydney in 1954. He then ‘honed’ his skills through training at esteemed institutions such as St. Vincent's and The Royal Prince Alfred Hospitals in Sydney. In 1964, he embarked on a transformative chapter of his career by moving to St. Vincent's in Melbourne.

The 1960s saw Jim respond to the urgent call to address the problem of alcohol and drug problems. He did so by establishing Melbourne's inaugural dedicated unit for their treatment, an institution that stands strong as a leader in Australia to this day. Fuelled by compassion and an unwavering resolve to enhance the lives of those grappling with alcohol and other drug issues, Jim's work in Melbourne was nothing short of visionary.

Jim's influence knew no bounds, extending beyond Australia's shores. In 1970, he embarked on a new chapter, joining the Addiction Research Foundation and the University of Toronto in Canada, where he conducted  groundbreaking research and policy work in the field of addiction. He returned to Australia as the Director of the Drug and Alcohol Division of the Health Commission of New South Wales from 1978 to 1982.

scan0010 smlThe early 1980s saw him collaborate with then-Premier Neville Wran in New South Wales. Together, they shifted the narrative surrounding public drunkenness, transitioning from a punitive approach to viewing it as a matter of health and social concern. This seismic shift led to the establishment of a network of alcohol and drug units in hospitals across New South Wales, setting new standards in treatment, public health advocacy, research, and training.

With the emergence of the heroin crisis, Dr Rankin took yet another pioneering step, creating Australia's first purpose-built methadone unit at St. Vincent's Hospital Sydney. This initiative was later named Rankin Court in his honour. His work in harm reduction, including the introduction of the methadone program, laid the groundwork for innovative approaches to the treatment of drug addiction.

It was also in the late 1970s that Jim, with Dr Les Drew, explored the need, feasibility, and value of establishing an Australian medical group dedicated to drug and alcohol issues. They recognised that no suitable national research_group_photo-sml.jpg professional and scientific organisation existed in Australia for scientists and practitioners to effectively meet, discuss, pursue, and promote matters of mutual interest in the field. These discussions led to the formation of the Australian Medical Society on Alcohol and other Drug Problems (AMSAD), which held its first annual meeting at the Australian National University, Canberra, on 31 July and 1st August 1981. As the society grew and it became increasingly apparent that the alcohol and drug field involved multidisciplinary fields, the society expanded its scope to become the Australian Medical and Professional Society on Alcohol and Other Drugs (AMPSAD), then the Australian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs (APSAD) in 1993, and finally, in 2004, the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs.

The Society honoured Jim at its tenth annual scientific meeting in 1990 with the James Rankin Oration. asking him to deliver the first Oration. The James Rankin Oration is a special opportunity at each conference for a person distinguished by their contribution to the alcohol and drug field to reflect and comment on an important issue for the field. Jim delivered the Oration three times over three decades, again in 2002 and 2013.

scan0015 smlEven in retirement, Jim remained unwavering in his commitment to advancing knowledge in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. Just weeks before his passing, he was actively engaged in discussions about a possible research paper with colleagues, a testament to his enduring dedication.

Jim’s remarkable contributions to healthcare, his vision for compassionate treatment, and his steadfast commitment to harm reduction have left an indelible mark on the world. His legacy will continue to guide us, improving the lives of those facing challenges with alcohol and drugs to foster positive social change. His impact is immeasurable, and his memory will forever inspire those who carry on his work.


Professor Kate Conigrave paid tribute to Dr James Rankin on behalf of APSAD on Tuesday 13 November, at APSAD Adelaide 2023.