The 2019 Lisbon Addictions Conference took place in beautiful surroundings on the banks of the Tagus River estuary. The conference took on a wide ranging theme with many sessions discussing the methodology of medical academic research papers, while others gave much more scope for civil society input when discussing drug related deaths or safer drug use.
It was evident for all to see that the Conference is seeing a shift in perspective in recent years as more civil society input is being valued and more “controversial” harm reduction practices are being discussed. Early on the first day Eliza Kurcevič presented at a session discussing the new three-year EMCDDA cooperation project “EU 4 Monitoring Drugs” (EU4MD) for countries in the European Neighbourhood Policy Area (ENP). The session attempted to pinpoint emerging drug trends in the region of countries including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine).
Eliza presented her research, carried out by the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA), in conjunction with Swansea University College of Law and Criminology. The project aims to give an accurate picture of the underreported use of NPS in the country and to tackle the challenges that are arising from these trends. The research has shown an increase in NPS use in the country.
The second Youth RISE-involved session of the day saw Florian Scheibein involved in an extremely date-heavy session presenting the work on developing “TripApp”, as he attempts to harness the power of open data and citizen science. The main goal of the app is to open up a new realm of possibilities for drug-related data to be used in a low threshold manner by people who use drugs.
Florian touched on some of the difficulties presented in developing an app of this manner, specifically relating to language barriers and how if you have a “SpongeBob” pill and log this in English, then someone else logs it in Spanish, it will give two completely unconnected additions. He also stressed the importance of having completely open-source, community driven data to minimize or completely remove the threshold for accessing this already low-threshold service and to ensure that it reaches its full potential.
One of the more radical sessions at this otherwise very medical and at times dry conference was a round-table discussion on the topic of “Safer Drugs”, which was sponsored by FuturiZe. While one would hope that, given the title, there would be plenty of discussion on supply side harm reduction initiatives, these exclusively focused on two legal drug markets with Lynne Dawkins presenting the benefits of safer nicotine devices, while Rafael Moldanado presented the current trends being seen in the legal cannabis market in Barcelona and how different strains can increase, or reduce, harm.
Keeping in line with the data-driven side event from the day before, Adam Winstock of the Global Drug Survey gave a presentation on many of his different projects and how they can be effectively utilized to positively impact on people’s decisions. The Global Drugs Survey has been a resounding success and has collected a wide-ranging sample of people who use drugs tracking their consumption habits. This can help service providers tailor their work specific to the current trends seen in their region. Adam also showed some of the other projects he is involved in, one of which aims to get people to consider their alcohol consumption, again relaying the importance of tailoring the app to the specific target audience, ranging from the types of questions being asked to the language and layout used in the app.
The final presentation of the session was from Owen Bowden-Jones talking about the current Chemsex scene, specifically in London where he is based. He showed evidence pointing to trends such as HIV positive people being more likely to engage in Chemsex than their non-HIV positive peers. The reasons behind these trends can include the need to overcome the internalized stigma associated with being HIV+.
A second FuturiZe sponsored event was arguably the highlight of the entire conference as Anton Luf of Checkit in Vienna and the Kosmicare team from Portugal showed us their range of drug checking services. This session incorporated speaking time for both of the presenters, followed by the Kosmicare team giving a full demonstration of their processes for on-site drug checking facilities.
Overall throughout the conference, interspersed through the overly academic presentations on research methodology were hidden gems of information and it was great to see a presence of civil society and community-led voices beginning to influence the opinions and actions of medical professionals.