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AMERSA Conference: Reflecting back on 2018 highlights and looking ahead to this year's conference

Claire Anne Simeone, DNP, FNP
Matthew Tierney, RN, MSN, NP

Shannon Mountain-Ray, LICSW
Scott E. Hadland, MD, MPH, MS

AMERSA (The Association of Multidisciplinary Education and Research in Substance use and Addiction) held its 42nd annual conference at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco on November 8-11, 2018, with sponsorship support from the ATTC Network as well as NIH, NIDA CTN, and SAMHSA. With 375 attendees from the fields of nursing, social work, behavioral health, psychiatry, medicine, pharmacy, research and policy, the conference provided a platform for the presentation of current challenges and innovations in research, education and clinical practice in substance use disorder prevention and treatment, as well as opportunities for collegial discussion and networking.

AMERSA, founded in 1976, is a non-profit professional organization whose mission is to improve health and wellbeing through interdisciplinary leadership in substance use education, research, clinical care and policy. A key goal is to improve education and clinical practice in the identification and management of substance-related problems by promoting leadership, mentorship and collaboration among multiple healthcare professions. AMERSA members represent numerous disciplines including physicians, nurses, social workers, psychologists, dentists, pharmacists and public health professionals. The annual conference attracted national and international attendees and provided opportunities for networking, mentorship, collaboration, and receiving feedback on work in progress.

During the pre-conference day on Wednesday, many early arriving attendees participated in pre-planned local site visits to agencies doing innovative work in the field. These included avant-garde opioid treatment programs at the San Francisco Veteran’s Administration and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, San Francisco’s Behavioral Health Access Center, and the Tenderloin Health Service’s planned safe injection facility. On Wednesday evening, a couple dozen AMERSA members attended a screening of the documentary movie “The Providers” by film-makers Laura Green and Anna Moot-Levin. The movie screening, sponsored by the ATTC who also provided popcorn and snacks, features three healthcare providers, an NP, a PA, and an MD, who care for people living on the margins in a rural American community struggling with a shortage of providers and the health and social problems associated with alcohol and drug use.

The formal conference began with a plenary on neural pathways that play a role in stigma presented by Deborah Finnell, DNS, CARN-AP, FAAN from Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. Dr. Finnell engaged the audience in a discussion of the neural basis of the complex interplay between stigma, disgust, prejudice, bias and discrimination, including implications for policy and clinical practice.

Jalie Tucker, PhD, MPH of the University of Florida, the 2018 recipient of AMERSA’s Betty Ford Award, presented a plenary entitled The Many Pathways to Recovery from Substance Use Disorders: Contributions from Psychology, Public Health and Behavioral Economics. The audience was captivated by Dr. Tucker’s discussion of natural recovery, the principles of behavioral economics and the importance of considering choice biases when developing interventions for problematic alcohol use.

A multi-disciplinary panel of experts affiliated with San Francisco’s justice system presented information on local collaborative justice and substance use treatment services. The panel included Lisa Lightman, MA, Judge Eric Fleming from the Collaborative Courts of San Francisco’s Superior Court, Angelica Almeida, PhD, Linda Wu, MSW, LCSW and Charles Houston from the SF Department of Public Health.

A second panel of experts presented Cannabis: Updates, Neurobiology and Public Health. Garth Terry, MD, PhD from the University of Washington and VA Puget Sound’s Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center set the stage with an overview of cannabis neurobiology. Tista Gosh, MD, MPH from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Rick Garza from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board shared key aspects of policy challenges, successes and surveillance during marijuana legalization in their respective states.

Current research in stimulant use epidemiology and interventions was the focus of the third interdisciplinary panel. Glenn Milos-Santos, PhD, MPH from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) School of Nursing, Elise Riley, PhD, from UCSF School of Medicine, David Olem, MS from UCSF Division of Preventive Services and Walter Gomez, MA, MSW, PhD from University of California Berkeley School of Social Welfare each presented their ongoing research addressing treatment approaches to methamphetamine and cocaine use disorders in marginalized populations, including homeless women, and men who have sex with men.

It is an AMERSA conference tradition to have a “spicy debate” on a controversial topic in the field of substance use and addiction. Our 2018 topic, Are Safe Consumption Spaces a Necessity for Public and Personal Health? was debated by Lindsay LaSalle, JD from the Drug Policy Alliance and John Lovell, JD from the Law Offices of John Lovell. The debate was very spicy indeed, and covered the pro and con arguments currently being hotly debated in public forums in communities across the country. Ongoing energetic discussions were overheard throughout the conference on this topic where scientific evidence, drug laws, and public opinion often clash.

Kevin Kunz, MD, MPH, DFSAM, Executive Vice President of the American College of Academic Addiction Medicine and the American Board of Addiction Medicine received AMERSA’s prestigious John P. McGovern award. He presented his vision for the field of addiction treatment through an inspiring talk on the cycle of drug epidemics and transformative change.

Saturday morning was rich with brief plenaries from AMERSA award winners who presented their innovative work in the categories of best research abstract, best curriculum and quality improvement abstract and best workshop. Winners included Julie Netherland, PhD and Sheila Vakharia, PhD, MSW for “Becoming an Effective Drug Policy Reform Advocate”, Rachel H. Alinsky, MD for “Receipt of Addiction Treatment Following Opioid-Related Overdose among Medicaid-Enrolled Youth”, Christopher S. Stauffer, MD for “Oxytocin- Enhanced Motivational Interviewing Group Therapy for Methamphetamine Use Disorder in Men who have Sex with Men: Preliminary Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial”, Jessica A. Kattan, MD, MPH for “New York City Health Department’s Multi-Pronged Approach to Expanding Buprenorphine Treatment Capacity” and Rachel Winograd, PhD for “Missouri’s Implementation of a ‘Medication First' Treatment Model for Opioid Use Disorder."

Beyond the provocative plenaries, the conference was rich with opportunities to review and discuss current trends in educational, clinical, research and policy work by both established and early-career professionals working in the field. The Thursday evening scientific poster session was held in the hotel’s beautiful “Room of the Dons.” The cozy space provided ample opportunity to review excellent posters, and to network with fellow AMERSA members. Numerous workshops and brief oral presentations throughout the conference offered a broad spectrum of topics in substance use and addiction from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.

Special interest group meetings (nursing, social work and behavioral health, physicians, adolescent and youth initiative, hospital-based addiction consult services, and medication for substance use disorders initiative) and mentor-mentee opportunities provided additional learning platforms, and rounded out the successful conference.

The 2018 AMERSA Annual conference was the largest annual conference to date and included many first-time attendees.

Preparations are underway for the 2019 annual conference which will be held in Boston at the Hyatt Regency on November 7th to 9th, with continued sponsorship support from the ATTC Network. The theme of the conference will be: Challenges and New Horizons in Addressing Substance use and Addiction.

Plenary presentations will address important challenges including a discussion by Ayana Jordan, MD, PhD. of Yale University on health disparities in accessing substance use treatment. Elizabeth Miller, MD, PhD, FSAHM of University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and Lynn Sanford, LICSW will present novel, evidence-based healing and resiliency-centered approaches to trauma treatment. Panelists Christopher Stauffer, MD, of University of California San Francisco, Matthew W. Johnson, PhD and Mary P. Cosimano, MSW both of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine will present on the use of psychedelics in addiction treatment. In addition, presentations will be made by winners of the Betty Ford award - Gail D'Onofrio, MD, MS, the John P. McGovern award, Daniel P. Alford, MD, MPH, and Best Abstract Awards as well as a variety of skills-based workshops and oral presentations covering a breadth/diversity of topics in the field of substance use and addiction.

The highly anticipated “Spicy Debate” will be on “Tapering Opioids: Compassionate Care or Punitive Policy?” Anna Lembke, MD of Stanford University and Stefan Kertesz, MD of University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine will review current research including gaps in knowledge and areas for future research, identify needs in health professional education, and discuss the clinical and public health impact of policy on both sides of the debate.

Conference attendees will have the opportunity to attend site visits highlighting various diverse and innovative resources and programs available to youth and adults in the Boston area on Wednesday, prior to conference opening.

As is AMERSA’s tradition, there will be several opportunities for attendees to network and connect as a community such as the daily Fun Run-Walk and Saturday yoga session. New members and first-time attendees will be invited to attend an orientation to AMERSA. Mentor/mentee meetings will be held throughout the conference. In addition, luncheons for the seven special interest groups and the annual conference award/auction luncheon, a breakfast for attendees interested in planning for AMERSA 2020 and a Thursday evening welcome and scientific poster session will be held.

AMERSA 2019 is shaping up to be one of our best conferences yet!

Published:
07/09/2019
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The opinions expressed herein are the views of the authors and do not reflect the official position of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), SAMHSA, CSAT or the ATTC Network. No official support or endorsement of DHHS, SAMHSA, or CSAT for the opinions of authors presented in this e-publication is intended or should be inferred.

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