New Psychoactive Substances conference – the expert view

wide view photograph of a grand hall with pillars and gold leaf on the ceiling. The hall is filled with blue chairs with people facing a stage at the end of the hall. One person has their hand raised to ask a question.

On Tuesday 15th March, 200 delegates attended the British Medical Association’s BMA House in central London for Addaction’s conference on New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) ‘No Longer a Novelty: The Expert View’.

Clinicians, practitioners, key workers, managers and many others gathered to hear a wide variety of talks and discussion around these new and emerging drugs, just weeks before the government’s controversial Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 comes into force. The conference heard from a range of experts and considered what measures the sector can take in the future. 

Starting off the day, Metropolitan Police Commander Simon Bray discussed implementation and enforcement of the pending Psychoactive Substances Act, stating that ‘we are able and ready to go on this as soon as the Act begins.’ 

Dr Mark Piper from conference sponsor Randox Testing took the delegates through the scientific process of testing for emerging substances.

Then MP and Minister for Prisons, Andrew Selous spoke about the serious harms resulting from NPS use in prisons. Majella Pearce from HM Inspectorate of Prisons echoed many of Selous’s concerns, speaking  of the difficulties the prison system is having getting a handle on NPS use. Addaction’s Criminal Justice Lead Fern Hensley offered hope with some excellent case studies on managing NPS in prisons with Addaction’s Trans4orm initiative in HMP Lincoln. 

Professor David Nutt gave a controversial speech on the myths of NPS, calling the new law ‘atrocious … both scientifically and from a health perspective.’

The afternoon was chaired by Jan King from the Angelus Foundation. Professor Harry Sumnall spoke compellingly on the problem of NPS in vulnerable populations. Addaction’s Rick Bradley followed on how NPS has affected young people, and the difficulty of communicating proportionate harm-reduction messages across in an often frantic media context. Dr Owen Bowden-Jones spoke about clinical training and best practice, though warned of the lack of data on long term use.

Dr Ben Sessa held forth in an entertaining talk on prohibition – ‘the elephant in the room’, as he put it. Finally Addaction’s Kostas Agath rounded things off to discuss how we move forward on this tricky issue. 

The conference presented opposing views, case studies and evidence, dialogue, debate - both in the talks and between delegates in the breaks. There were many fascinating, in-depth and varied discussions on NPS. Many of the talks were broadcast live using Periscope.