In 2021, Dr. Rob Calder became Editor of the SSA website, and Natalie Davies joined him as website Content Manager. Read about what interests them in addiction research, and browse their content highlights over the past year.

  • The SSA launched its new podcast in December 2021. Episode one was co-hosted by Oliver Standing from Collective Voice, and explored the topic of recommissioning. There was also a bonus episode – a full interview with Dr Will Haydock about his experiences as an addiction treatment commissioner. Listen to the trailer for the podcast here.
  • The UK Government’s new 10-year drug strategy for England and Wales was published on 6 December 2021. Our ‘SSA notes’ article summarised the context and the implications for criminal justice, addiction treatment, the workforce, addictions research and partnership working.
  • We also covered the news that over 70 public health and healthcare organisations and 100 individual professionals signed a letter asking the UK Government to pilot drug consumption rooms. Plus, we launched a new information resource on drug consumption rooms, detailing what drug consumption rooms are, how they are delivered, and whether they are effective.
  • The SSA marked Alcohol Awareness Week with an introduction to the 2021 theme of ‘alcohol and relationships’, a reading list, and an interview with behavioural couples’ therapist Grace Heaphy.
  • For International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Natalie Davies wrote a blog about the consequences of violence against women, and its overlap with drugs and alcohol. In addition, the website featured interviews with two experts: Karen Bailey spoke about providing trauma-informed care in substance use services, and Samuel Hales, an ESRC-funded PhD student, discussed alcohol-related sexual violence in university settings.
  • Autism can have an enormous impact on alcohol use and recovery. Chelsey Flood discussed her experiences of drinking and of 12-step support. She wrote about the importance of providing recovery support that allows people with neurological differences to be comfortable and authentic to themselves.
  • To mark World Homeless Day 2021, we published an article examining the data on what homelessness looks like, who it affects and what harms it causes.
  • There are many different types of co-production. Done well, co-production enriches research and implementation. Done badly, co-production reinforces the ‘top-down’ approach that it tries to address. In October, Rob Calder wrote about the importance of embedding research into practice rather than the other way round.
  • Professor Marsden discussed the lack of pharmacological treatments for cocaine, and about a study of using mental imagery to address cocaine cravings.
  • The Pregnancy Edit was a series of articles on alcohol-related harm in pregnancy, created for the Society for the Study of Addiction website in September 2021. We covered the potential mediating role of the placenta, how to understand and improve the way risk in pregnancy is communicated to women, and vociferous objections from women’s organisations about draft health guidelines for England and Wales. Read the introductory article on why the SSA decided to talk about alcohol-related harm in pregnancy.
  • Each year the 10 September marks World Suicide Prevention Day. John Robins outlined why this issue remains important for addiction treatment services and for people who use drugs. He also discussed what steps can be taken to help prevent suicide.
  • The SSA published a seven-point guide to making an effective academic poster based on principles of science communication.
Natalie’s highlights

The Pregnancy Edit was a massive highlight for me this year. September was Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) awareness month, and we dedicated the whole month to talking about preventing alcohol-related harm in pregnancy.”

“It was so illuminating to hear from experts with different backgrounds and points of view. For example, Aliy Brown from FASD Hub Scotland gave insight into the challenges that FASD can present for families, why services like theirs provide support regardless of whether a child has a diagnosis of FASD, and why she believes the message around drinking in pregnancy needs to be ‘No alcohol, no risk’.”

“In contrast, Clare Murphy, Principal Investigator of WRISK and Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), shared how abstinence-based public health messages around alcohol in pregnancy were clearly being delivered “with all the right reasons”, but were potentially having serious unintended consequences, particularly for women who have unplanned pregnancies.”

Natalie Davies joined the Society for the Study of Addiction in May 2021, after nearly 6 years working for Drug and Alcohol Findings where she was co-editor and remains co-owner. Her interests include homelessness, violence against women, and alcohol-related harm in pregnancy.

  • For International Overdose Awareness Day, Natalie Davies examined the role of ‘street’ and prescribed benzodiazepines in drug-related deaths in Scotland, which last year reached the highest number since records began.
  • Dame Carol Black’s report emphasised the importance of workforce development with several recommendations to address workers that are “on their knees”. Rob Calder discussed why workforce development should be an expectation, not an optional extra.
  • If you are involved in research in any way, you will, at some point, need to master the systematic review. Rob Calder went through a step-by-step approach to this supposedly simple (but often not) research method.
  • On 8 February 2019, Professor Dame Carol Black was appointed to lead a major two-part review of drugs policy for the UK Government. The long-awaited final report painted a stark picture of addiction policy, research and treatment in the UK today, and made a large number of recommendations to turn the situation around.
  • Rob Calder and Natalie Davies put the evidence spotlight on drug safety testing to see what can be learned about the effectiveness of drug safety testing and what circumstances are necessary for it to reach its full potential. The same month, an interview with Amira Guirguis was published which discussed the scope of the first Home Office-licensed drug checking intervention, set inside a community substance misuse service in Somerset.
  • The theme for World Hepatitis Day 2021 was ‘Hep Can’t Wait’ – a reference to the urgent need to eliminate the spread of the virus. As part of the Welsh Parliament’s 2019–2021 inquiry into the provision of health and social care in the adult prison estate, the Hepatitis C Trust submitted evidence on hepatitis C in prisons. This blog for the SSA website examined the charity’s main recommendations around testing, training, and treatment, as well as what prisons are missing about preventing hepatitis C.
  • We wrote about some of the changes and new provisions brought about by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, and affirmed why domestic abuse is (or ought to be) a key consideration for the substance use field. This was accompanied by a blog on the need to address drinking problems in the context of domestic abuse, an interview with Mike Ward about his work on safeguarding adult reviews and domestic homicide reviews, and a domestic abuse and substance use reading list.
  • The Scottish government published new ‘rights-based’ treatment standards for people who use drugs. Our blog considered what it means to prioritise people’s rights, and whether this is compatible with an evidence-based approach to addressing substance use problems.
  • In the June episode of the podcast PhD Addicted to Research, Ayan, Carol and Dan discussed the writing-up stage of a PhD. Dr Nicola Metrebian joined the podcast to give a supervisor’s perspective on this all important stage of doctoral study.
  • Stephen Parkin wrote about some of the inadvertent consequences of using photos about substance use, and made five recommendations for authors and publishers based on his own research.
  • SABAA is an SSA-funded project looking at the overlap between autism and addiction. The project aims to identify research gaps and priorities as well as to provide guidance for future work. The SSA caught up with Professor Julia Sinclair to find out more.
  • Bacterial infections may be less likely to make the headlines than fatal overdoses and blood-borne viruses, but they are a source of considerable suffering among people who inject drugs. Natalie Davies looked at the latest figures from Public Health England, which indicated a treatment gap and a prevention gap.
Rob’s highlights

“The most obvious stand-out moment for me this year was the new Drug Strategy. This document will have a massive impact on treatment delivery for the next decade and beyond. I felt privileged to be in the position to read and report about it on the day it was published. I also enjoyed looking through the new guidance on evaluating complex interventions. I love this stuff, looking at the balance between simplifying studies to produce reliable findings and bringing in complexity so that findings can be transferred to treatment settings that are, inherently, complex.”

“The work we did with the SABAA team on autism and addiction was a real eye-opener for me. I thought Chelsea Flood’s blog was fascinating.”

“I was also really happy that we put out the first SSA Addictions Edited podcast. It was a challenge at times, but I’m really happy with how it turned out and am looking forward to developing it over the next year.”

Dr. Rob Calder has worked in addiction research and treatment. His research has focused on how best to use online resources to disseminate research findings and on how to improve the use of evidence-based practice in addiction treatment settings.

  • We published an Addictions Lives interview with Professor Betsy Thom by Professor Virginia Berridge. The Addiction Lives series focuses on the views and personal experiences of people who have made particular contributions to the evolution of ideas in the field of addiction.
  • The new SSA Early Career Research Network launched on 19 May, providing a series of (initially online) events designed to support PhD students and post-doc academics through the early stages of their addiction research careers.
  • The Youth in Iceland Model is a prevention model based on the experiences in Iceland in the 1990s. An SSA-funded multidisciplinary team is now using this model to work with young people in Dundee. The SSA spoke to Dr Tessa Parkes and Dr Hannah Carver about their work on this project.
  • For International Women’s Day 2021, Natalie Davies wrote a blog about the need for women-only and gender-responsive services, in which she drew from research about a women-only drug consumption room, which emerged as a bottom-up response to the opioid crisis and an epidemic of violence against women.
  • In a paper published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, Dr Matt Hibbert explored barriers to treatment for men who have sex with men and who engage in sexualised drug use. The SSA talked to Dr Hibbert about his findings and the implications for policy and treatment.
  • The Scottish Drugs Death’s Taskforce was established in 2019 to protect people at risk from drug-related deaths in Scotland. Following a consultation period, the taskforce’s Forward Plan was published in 2020. The SSA talked to the Taskforce’s chair Professor Catriona Matheson to find out more.
  • Dr Basak Tas was awarded the SSA’s first post-doctoral transitional development support in 2019, finishing in March 2020. The SSA caught up with Dr Tas to find out more about the scheme and about her ongoing research.
  • The SSA president, Dr Ed Day, completed his first report as the UK government Drug Recovery Champion. The report outlined progress he made in the past year and outlined future work and priorities.
  • Researchers from King’s College London published research based on data from April 2020 on how the first lock-down affected the mental health of people who gambled compared with people who did not. The SSA spoke to first author, and SSA fellow, Dr Steve Sharman to find out more.
  • Jen Boyd, Dr Charlotte Buckley and Amber Copeland wrote a blog about how computational modelling techniques can help us understand alcohol consumption and harm. They ended by saying, “These modelling techniques stand ready to make substantial advancements in our field. We hope other researchers will consider adopting these methods in the future.”
  • Olivia Sexton (University of Sheffield, UK) reflected on attending the SSA PhD Symposium 2020. Within the lived experiences session, she presented findings from the second study of her PhD, which identified the characteristics of ‘heavy drinking’ occasions.
  • The January episode of the Addiction Audio podcast featured an interview marking the change in the journal’s Editor-in-Chief. In this episode Professor John Marsden talked to Professor Robert West about his time as Editor-in-Chief of Addiction.

by Rob Calder and Natalie Davies

The opinions expressed in this post reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions or official positions of the SSA.

The SSA does not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of the information in external sources or links and accepts no responsibility or liability for any consequences arising from the use of such information.


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