Report on the Third Contemporary Drug Problems Conference

Led by an international team of researchers including staff from the National Drug Research Institute, the international journal Contemporary Drug Problems (CDP) recently held its third biennial conference in Lisbon, Portugal. Entitled ‘Encountering alcohol and other drugs’, the conference ran from the 16th to the 18th of September, and was hosted by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). CDP’s first two conferences were held in Prato, Italy, in 2011, and Aarhus, Denmark, in 2013. These events opened up to scrutiny questions of how ‘drug problems’ are constituted, and how the complexity of drug use might be attended to and managed. The 2015 conference, the largest to date, built on these themes, exploring the strengths and limitations of increasingly influential approaches that emphasise relationality, contingency and emergence. ‘Events’, ‘multi-agent systems’, ‘trajectories’, ‘flows’, ‘hybrids’, ‘networks’, ‘phenomena’ and ‘assemblages’ have all emerged as productive, if very different, ways of mapping and understanding alcohol and other drugs, their effects and their consumers, and conference presentations addressed many – possibly all – of these concepts.

The event’s 80 presentations were organised into three concurrent sessions. Between them, 17 countries were represented. Disciplines included anthropology, cultural studies, epidemiology, history, psychology, science and technology studies, and sociology. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches were taken. Among these diverse presentations were many Australian contributions. Varied in topic and approach, the presentations showcased on an international stage the strength, scope and influence of Australian social science research on alcohol and other drugs.

Among these presentations were three outstanding keynote addresses. Professor Alison Ritter (Drug Policy Modelling Program, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales) delivered a presentation entitled ‘The dynamics of drug policy: Relational, emergent and contingent’, and Dr Emmanuel Kuntsche (Addiction Switzerland) delivered a presentation entitled ‘Understanding the weekend drinking of young adults from an “events” perspective: The possibilities and limitations of using personal cell phones’. Unfortunately, the third scheduled keynote speaker, Dr Eugene Raikhel (Department of Comparative Human Development, University of Chicago), was obliged to cancel his trip due to a personal emergency. At the late request of the conference organising committee, Dr Nicole Vitellone (Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology, University of Liverpool) stepped in, delivering a presentation entitled ‘Material intimacies: Researching the encounter between syringe, gender and harm reduction’.

The program concluded on a positive note with Professor David Moore announcing Helsinki as the 2017 conference’s host city, and Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare as CDP’s local partner. David also noted that, as with the previous two conferences, selected papers will be published in a future special issue of the CDP journal.

Conference partners were EMCDDA (Portugal), the National Drug Research Institute (Australia), the Burnet Institute (Australia), Aarhus University (Denmark) and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (United States).

Posted on: 1 Oct 2015

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