Category: Collaboration

Enslaved by the Annual Symposium of the Society for the Study of Addiction 2013

The term Addiction comes from the Latin “enslaved by”. For two days, we became slaves of addiction conferring, once again, at the SSA conference in York, UK. Here’re my perceptions from this scientific slavery.
 

De-normalisation

Alcohol is so widespread in our community that abstinence is almost abnormal, argued one of the conference delegates. It’s hard to disagree with that. Recovery is helped by achieving a sense of normality about abstinence or lowered use. Professor Robert West took this issue even further and talked about denormalising use (check out his blog). Looking at the issue from multiple angles, he warned about the potential negative consequences of stigmatising use. Stigmatisation can backfire by increasing healthcare costs for people who not only use, but also have to deal with the stigmatisation and its negative effects. It seems that normalising safer use or normalising quitting is the way to go. My point about negative effects of stigmatisation reinforces the belief (supported by evidence) held by many harm reductionists that balanced information about drugs is the best form of primary prevention.
 

Skeltergate coffee

The most useful part of the conference for me was the opportunity to talk to colleagues at my, post-doctoral, level. I met the first friend before the conference, in a coffee place – Skeltergate. Skeltergate is a small cafeteria really close to the conference hotel. My friend waited there for me with a research paper in one hand and a pencil in the other. He definitely made the best use of his time. He and my second friend, who lives in London, are emerging researchers who recently relocated because of work. Both have a very busy working schedule, which includes working at 4 AM before breakfast, or after 11 PM when kids go to bed. I asked one of them how many hours per week he worked and he replied that working time is not a meaningful variable in academia. In another words, productive researchers work all the time.
 

Don’t stop working

Checking email is not work, it’s a compulsion. True to this statement, most people checked their inboxes during the conference lectures. Others did so in the cafeteria. Some people did not read their emails when they were out of office and enjoyed the opportunities of talking to other delegates. The academia did not manage to enslave all.
 

Always keep searching for the water pump

Before the conference, my PI suggested reading a bit about John Snow (1813 –1858) – an English doctor and a pioneer of anaesthesia and medical hygiene. Being the father of modern epidemiology, he traced the source of a cholera outbreak in Soho, London, in 1854. The outbreak was long, had too many victims, and no one know what kept it going. Dr Snow found the poisoned water pump, which everybody drank from, and shut it down. The figure below shows his memorial plaque at the Park Inn.

Tweeting

In contrast to the high prevalence of personal computers, the SSA Twitter banter was quiet again. Maybe it’s because there’s no official #hashtag for the SSA conference. Some people use the whole title (see figure below), while others tried to establish the #SSA2013 hashtag. This tag was used in 5 tweets only. What’s more, it’s being used as a hashtag for Space Situational Awareness 2013 conference, which was in London the weekend after SSA.

 

Check out also the blog about the conference by Sally Marlow

Cochrane conference in Ireland: Making an impact? (#cochraneevidence)

Another conference’s over. This one is among my favourites because it’s about Cochrane collaboration. It attracted around 70 delegates who came to Queens university in Belfast this year.

Lots of interesting discussions with colleagues, e.g. how do you define an expert? or What’s an ideal composition of an expert panel or a committee? It would seem that senior academics, professors or directors are the right experts, but truth may not be so straightforward. Some of these senior people may be simply too busy or think they know it all. Inclusion of junior staff, post-docs, nurses or systematic review authors on expert panels is better because they lack the weaknesses mentioned earlier. What more, they may be the most hard working group in the academia or research in general. Because of that, hey are likely to be dedicated members of expert panels.

A whole different discussion was going on between the conference delegates on Twitter:

Hearing and talking about my/ fellow reviewers’ experiences of doing SRs made me think about what was special different about my own experience or review:

  • it was my first review
  • I’ve applied a truly systematic approach, which received praise from my quality advisor (see previous blog post)
  • it was real quick
  • I had multiple presentations and non-peer reviewed articles about the review
  • I worked for 2 universities
  • I’ve used EPPI-reviewer software, unlike many of my fellow colleagues
  • I’ve used a lot of support from our health information specialists
  • it was done within a unique Health Research Board of Ireland (HRB) fellowships scheme
  • I couldn’t have done it without a strong support from my co-authors and the Cochrane Drugs and Alcohol review group (CDAG)

So, what impact had this year’s Cochrane in Ireland conference on me? It helped me to regain my research identity again.
…and the sky in Belfast was grey, yet again.
A copy of my cochrane review can be accessed here:

INVEST-ing: Jan Klimas teams up with US university

NIDA CTN WSN

Jan Klimas, PhD, joins the Western States Node on March 1, 2013, as a NIDA CTN INVEST Fellow.  NIDA is the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and INVEST is International Visiting Scientists & Technical Exchange Program for drug abuse research. Oregon Health & Sciences University hosts Dr. Klimas’ six months fellowship during which he will assess the use of Screening and Brief Intervention (SBIRT) for alcohol use disorders among patients receiving agonist medication for opioid use disorders. 

Professor Dennis McCarty, Co-PI for the Western States Node, will supervise Dr. Klimas during his fellowship.  The research examines addiction treatment in primary and specialty care settings with respect to implementation of screening and treatment for unhealthy alcohol use among opioid-dependent patients in methadone or buprenorphine agonist treatment in Ireland and Oregon.  Dr. Klimas’ prior work in Ireland informs the U.S. investigation… Read more in the NIDA CTN bulletin, issue November 15th, 2012: (http://ctndisseminationlibrary.org/bulletin/20121115.pdf

Symposium of the Society for the Study of Addiction: A cultural shift? (#ssa)

Among the Top 5 conferences in the Addiction field worldwide, the SSA symposium (http://www.addiction-ssa.org/) came to pass last week in York (UK). For obvious reasons, the conference organisers are loyal to the same venue for a number of years. Not only it is a spectacular historical town, but it’s accessible from most of the UK research centres of excellence by a couple of hours drive.

Our group brought to the conference a set of related presentations honouring the results of our hard work in the past years. They were all linked by a genuine need to come up with realistic solutions to drinking among methadone users (or other problem drug users):

Problem alcohol use among DUs in primary care: evidence, barriers, research agenda

 The following are titles of three related papers presented together at the conference:

  1.  Problem alcohol use among problem drug users: Development of clinical guidelines for general practice
  2.  The management of problem alcohol use among drug users in primary care: Exploring patients’ experience of screening and treatment
  3.  Psychosocial interventions to reduce alcohol consumption in concurrent problem alcohol and illicit drug users: Cochrane review

To our greatest surprise, we found ourselves amidst a long thought-provoking discussion with the interested audience following our  presentations. This had to be cut off by a chair who was mindful of a long line-up of subsequent talks. I hope this wasn’t only a mere reflection of a hight need or interest in the proffesional community but also an acknowledgement of our expertise in conducting and presentig this research programme.

Following this positive reception of our research we resolved to focus more on quality, than quantity for our research endeavours in 2013; so that we can make for better candidates for the next year’s poster prizes and/or for publishers of the top drugs journal – The Addiction.

Visiting this event for the first time 2 years ago, I couldn’t pass without notice a heavy focus on medical aspects of addiction, e.g. medicines and treatment. That changed. This year, there were many presentations from the community/ practitioner crowd on topics unheard of at this meeting before (e.g. John Roche’s New drugs, new problems? Responding to club drugs in Leeds or Duncan Raistrick’s Payment by Results) – all attended by a number of attendees. The same – non-medicinalising – trend apperead in the conference tweets:

Excellent final talk at #SSA by Tim Leighton. Recovery is not new. Recovery movement = contemporary Temperance movement.
— Dr Vanessa Crawford (@addictionpsych) November 9, 2012

My second observation is about the symposium audience. Many new (young) faces appeared among the seasoned veterans of this conference. This influenced conference’s social programme too, as the conferring crowd quickly dispersed into their rooms following some modest dinner celebrations. Is the crushing hand of recession strengthening its grip and forcing addiction experts to work more – celebrate less? Or are we witnessing a cultural shift in the UK’s most established addiction meeting?