Blog Post

Los Angeles Conference to Explore Stimulant Use

Sheila Vakharia

More Americans have addictions to methamphetamine or cocaine than to heroin, yet where are the news stories about the stimulant crisis? A free conference next week explores this and other questions

Over 100 researchers, services providers, students, and policy advocates will come together at a free one-day conference in Los Angeles on September 25—Stimulant use: Harm reduction, treatment, and future directions—to discuss what works and what doesn’t when trying to help people who use stimulant drugs, such as crack cocaine and methamphetamine.

The conference is being hosted by Drug Policy Alliance, along with local partnering organizations and public health agencies, to shed light on stimulant use and to encourage dialogue about future directions for research and practice.

Underserved populations at risk

Last year, more Americans used stimulant drugs (i.e. cocaine, methamphetamine, and certain prescription drugs) than heroin and prescription pain medications combined and yet there was no public outrage or call for a solution to the “stimulant crisis.” This classification of drugs, which is used by over 4.5 million Americans, has few tailored evidence-based treatment approaches to help users stay safe or get help. A barrier to progress is the stigma and misinformation associated with this classification of drugs, but also the challenges of identifying strategies that work for such a diverse population of users. This large gap in the research literature and in treatment settings leaves people who use stimulant drugs underserved and at risk.

Dr. Jules Netherland, Director of the Office of Academic Engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance and one of the event’s organizers, states, “It’s time to take a fresh look at the research and innovative practices so we can better understand why people use these drugs and help to reduce the harms associated with them."

Panels will be comprised of researchers alongside direct service providers and people with a history of stimulant use in order to draw upon the various forms of expertise in this area. It is hoped that bringing together these diverse views will provide attendees with a more holistic view of the issue and result in a richer dialogue about possible solutions.

A focus on harm reduction and treatment options

The potential harms from stimulant use can be different from those of other drugs, and so this conference promises to expand understandings of harm reduction beyond needle exchange. Panelists will describe harms such as overamping, isolation, violence, and risk for blood-borne pathogens while also identifying various interventions which can mitigate these harms. Strategies to be discussed include: the need to create safer consumption spaces for people who smoke crack cocaine, transitioning injection stimulant users to lower risk routes of administration, and the need for low-threshold housing.

Another panel will discuss various treatment options for individuals who may want to reduce or stop using stimulants altogether. These treatment options include a behavioral treatment called contingency management, medication assisted treatment options, harm reduction therapy, and cannabis-assisted treatment for detoxification and substitution treatment.

Integrating the understanding of people with lived experience

The final panel of the day will feature service providers and people who identify as current or former stimulant users to share experiences from on-the-ground. Panelists will reflect upon the challenges and opportunities for further supporting people who use stimulants, providing attendees with insights about new strategies that are needed to support these populations.

Recent reports suggest that treatment admissions due to stimulant use is on the rise in certain communities. Now is the time to get ahead of the problem by bringing together researchers, providers, and those directly impacted to generate innovative solutions.

If this event interests you, please RSVP here and join us!

Sheila P Vakharia is the policy manager of the Office of Academic Engagement for the Drug Policy Alliance.