Qutba Al Ghafri was awarded an SSA travelling scholarship in 2022. Here she blogs about attending the biggest addiction conference in Europe, visiting the leading authority on illicit drugs in the European Union, and presenting her trailblazing research on treatment and harm reduction services for people who use drugs in Muslim communities.

I was awarded an SSA travelling scholarship to fund an international visit to Portugal to attend Lisbon Addictions 2022 and visit the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). I am a fourth-year PhD student from Oman, and am based at the National Addiction Centre in King’s College London. My PhD explores the barriers and facilitators to accessing drug use treatment services for people who use drugs in Oman, as well as among Muslim communities – a population not commonly represented in substance use research.

Presenting an e-poster at Lisbon Addictions

Lisbon Addictions 2022 was a three-day conference, which had almost 1,800 researchers, clinicians, and students from 88 countries in attendance. The programme included topics on policy, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery.

Some of the sessions I particularly enjoyed were on:

  • addressing substance use in humanitarian settings
  • understanding women’s drug use, responses, and recovery
  • language in drug policy reform

I presented my own work on the first day of the conference via an e-poster. My poster was titled “Barriers and facilitators to accessing inpatient and community drug use treatment and harm reduction services for people who use drugs in Muslim communities”. The presentation was followed by a short Q&A session, and further discussion.

Being invited to talk at the EMCDDA

After the conference, I was honoured to be invited to give a talk in the EMCDDA monthly paper club hosted by Dr Lucas Wiessing, a principal scientist at the EMCDDA. This was a hybrid meeting where people joined virtually and in-person. I presented the 3 studies I am currently working on for my PhD: a systematic review on Muslim communities; and two qualitative studies conducted in Oman – one on the service providers and the other on the service users.

After the talk, we discussed substance use in Muslim and minority groups and how these findings could be useful in the European context. It was very useful to learn about the strategies and plans that are in place in Europe for migrants and minority groups to access substance use treatment. This visit had a major influence on my ability to network with people researching drug use at a European level.

Growing connections and collaborations

It was so important to attend Lisbon Addictions and visit the EMCDDA, and will benefit my career. The highlight of both was definitely networking with researchers and policymakers in the field of addiction. Being in Lisbon helped me grow my connections and collaborations, and also helped me forward with my PhD by enabling me to analyse and compare the results of my study to what is being done in Europe.

by Qutba Al Ghafri

The SSA’s travelling scholarships provide up to £2,500 to support travel to international meetings, visit laboratories or clinics, and collaborate in research and further their training. Applications open three times a year, with deadlines in February, June, and October.

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