Australian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs (APSAD)
On the third and final conference day Professor Ian Webster spoke eloquently about how we may need to change our thinking on drug and alcohol matters to look at a wider picture. He gave many examples from history, pointing out that by the time antibiotics for TB and other infections were invented, the incidence of bacterial diseases was already very much in decline. Thus he emphasised the multifactorial nature of causations for change and that nothing could work unless it had community support. The Australian experience with random breath testing, first starting in Tasmania, caused immediate and significant reductions in road deaths. Several terms were new to me this week, one being �communitarian�.
The second speaker was renowned Kiwi researcher David Fergusson whose studies include a rigorous longitudinal follow-up of over 1000 individuals born in Christchurch in 1974. Their exposure to, problematic use or and/or dependency on cannabis is just one of many facets which have been closely examined every year or so for over 25 years.
Professor Fergusson said that being involved in cannabis epidemiology, he was obliged to deal with drug law reformers but did not see himself as an advocate. He stated that most researchers have some pre-conceived ideas, such as �cannabis is safe� or �cannabis is extremely dangerous� (neither of which is probably true). Thus they often end up proving their own ideas without necessarily contributing much to science. He used the example of Vegemite which could become the subject of a health study. One might find common harmful associations while others might show no significant difference between those who eat Vegemite and normal controls who (naturally) shun the product. This example is telling as for nutritional reasons Vegemite had its salt content changed at one time to reduce its potential public health impact.
The rest of this third day was given over to numerous papers in concurrent sessions covering a variety of dependency subjects, including Aboriginal Health, prevention strategies, brief interventions, psychostimulant treatments (much speculation here, apparently ), Drug Courts and Diversion from the judicial system. Afternoon parallel sessions mostly continued from the morning but also included parenting, pregnancy and more alcohol subjects.
The final session included some very important items including release of the new General Practice smoking cessation guidelines by Robyn Richmond, self help report from We Help Ourselves (WHO) by Garth Popple and other discussion about dissemination of evidence into practice. I think that Professor Saunders was the only medical doctor in this final line-up of eight. Despite supplying most of the public health dependency interventions in Australia, GPs and pharmacists were not well represented this year. Perhaps the next APSAD conference in Perth, WA in November 2004 will redress this issue.