Sixth European drugs summer school kicks off in Lisbon with record number of students

26 June: International day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking

The sixth European drugs summer school (EDSS) — ‘Illicit drugs in Europe: demand, supply and public policies’ — opens today in Lisbon on International day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking (1)(2). The two-week course (26 June–7 July), is a joint initiative of the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) and the University Institute of Lisbon (ISCTE-IUL) and is supported by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)(3). This year, the EDSS has reached its maximum capacity with a record 50 participants enrolled from some 25 countries.

Through a multidisciplinary and interactive approach to the drugs problem, EMCDDA scientific experts, leading academics, guest speakers and policymakers, will prepare participants to meet the complex policy challenges in this field. The theme in focus this year will be ‘Preventing and reducing mortality’.

Speaking today in Lisbon, EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel said: ‘I am delighted to open our sixth European drugs summer school and to welcome a record number of participants and speakers for two weeks of lively debate around preventing and reducing drug-related mortality. As our latest European Drug Report shows, this theme is particularly relevant and timely, as overdose deaths rise for the third year in a row and concerns grow over the threat posed by highly potent synthetic opioids’.

Goosdeel adds: ‘Today the United Nations promotes its Listen FIRST campaign to support evidence-based prevention interventions as an investment in the wellbeing of children, young people, their families and communities. Through careful listening, parents, teachers, policymakers and prevention workers can play a vital role in reducing the development of drug use and risky behaviours. We must also listen to the more chronic drug users who are attempting to control or reduce their substance use. It is important that they can voice their needs and describe the obstacles they face in changing their behaviour’.

Week 1 of the summer school, dedicated to ‘Drug problems: market, substances, use and harms’, will feature lectures on: the global burden of drug-related problems; drug markets in Europe; drug prevention and treatment; drug-related deaths; reducing drug-related harms (including an address from the coordinator of the Estonian community-based naloxone distribution programme) and new and emerging drug trends in Europe. Also covered will be drug-related infectious diseases and acute drug toxicity in hospital emergency services and drug-related research in Europe (4).

Week 2, dedicated to ‘Evidence-based policymaking for drug-related issues’, will include lectures on: drug policies (concepts, issues and analysis); the role of the EU in international drug policy; monitoring supply reduction and drug enforcement activity; the cost of drug policy; drug laws; the production and geopolitics of drugs; and the link between evidence and decision-making.

Over the two weeks, the students will participate in study visits to outreach facilities (mobile methadone unit; harm reduction centre) and will meet members of the Lisbon ‘Commission for dissuasion’ (5). During the course, they will also attend interactive workshops to discuss their own projects and views.

The proceedings will close with an open debate on the ‘UNGASS outcome document — what next?’(6), featuring keynote speeches from João Goulão, Portuguese National Drug Coordinator and Owen Bowden-Jones, Chair of the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). These will build on an earlier address ‘Putting commitments into practice — the CND-led post-UNGASS process’, by Ambassador Moitinho de Almeida, appointed by the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs as facilitator for post-UNGASS matters.

Other keynote speeches include:

  • ‘Models of addiction: why do people use drugs?’ — Robert West, Addiction Journal;
  • ‘Women and drugs: gender specificities and an example of setting up drug services for women’ — Florence Mabileau, Council of Europe Pompidou Group;
  • ‘Choose your drug problem: the dilemmas of drug policymaking’ — Keith Humphreys, Stanford School of Medicine, USA (video lecture) and EMCDDA staff;
  • ‘Law enforcement against drug production in Europe’ — Bernard van Camp, Police commissioner, Belgium and EMCDDA staff.

Previous rounds of the summer school have brought together students from the EU Member States as well as from Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas. Profiles of former alumni and their testimonials can be found on the official summer school website and their statements viewed in a promotional video (7).

The EMCDDA and ISCTE-IUL renewed their Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on 10 May 2017 in Lisbon, the first having been signed in 2011 ahead of the inaugural European drugs summer school in 2012. The new MoU, signed for a period of five years, aims to: promote effective cooperation in academic and scientific activities in areas of common interest; and enhance the scientific, technical and human capacity and potential of the two organisations (8).

The EMCDDA Strategy 2025, underlines how the agency’s partnerships with universities, research centres and scientific bodies allows it to maintain a close and ongoing understanding of research developments (9). The summer school is a prime example of such collaboration, enriching us with insights from students, researchers and professionals working on drug issues worldwide.

The EMCDDA marks 26 June with its annual event at its premises for the Lisbon diplomatic community and its partners from the Portuguese authorities.

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