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NCRG on the Road: ASAM and APA Meetings

by: NCRG Staff | Dec 20, 2012

The NCRG on the Road blog series includes posts from NCRG staff members as they travel to fulfill the organization’s mission of funding the highest-quality research on gambling disorders and increasing public education opportunities. This post is from Nathan Smith, the NCRG’s Program Officer, about his travels on behalf of the NCRG to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) conference in Atlanta, Ga., and the American Psychological Association conference in Orlando, Fla.

Last April, I had the opportunity to attend the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) conference in Atlanta. I was particularly excited for the trip because it represented a series of firsts: the first time the NCRG connected with ASAM, my first time exhibiting at a conference for the NCRG, my first chance to personally give our new screening magnets to addiction doctors, and the first time an airline lost my suitcase (though, I could have lived without this last bit of excitement).

Even though I had never worked at a conference exhibit before, I was delighted to find that the ASAM members were very interested in gambling disorders. People who stopped to chat with me were keenly interested in all of our free educational resources, especially our free online webinars and monograph series on recent peer-reviewed research. I was also able to talk to a lot of folks about our new magnets printed with a brief gambling screen. The magnets were designed to go on a desk or file cabinet in a doctor’s office, and the brief screen used is the Brief Biosocial Gambling Screen (BBGS) from the Division on Addictions (at Cambridge Health Alliance, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School).

I also had the opportunity to attend some of the conference sessions. The first plenary session stood out in particular because the speaker, Dr. Richard Saitz of Boston University Medical Center, promised a critique of the literature on Screening and Brief Interventions (SBI). This is a subject we, at the NCRG, are very interested in because we have funded three grants on SBIs in the past two years, with total cost of just over $500,000! So suffice it to say I was nervous to attend a session that could call into question our investment. However, what Dr. Saitz presented was a well reasoned plea for more deliberate study of SBIs. Most of his talk came from a recent paper he published about alcohol related SBIs, but the lessons are a good reminder for everyone working with health related research: don’t overstep the published research, rely on randomized controlled trials (RCTs), and do (or in our case, fund) more research. By the end of the talk I felt confident about our NCRG projects, all of which are RCTs done by researchers with good track records.

The ASAM meeting also gave me a chance to connect with people interested in our field – which is sometimes rare in larger psychological meetings. It was nice to meet new people interested in our work, but I also got to see some familiar faces. In particular, I saw Dr. Scott Teitelbaum from the University of Florida College of Medicine. You may recall that Dr. Teitelbaum spoke at the NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction in 2011, and I interviewed him for the blog during the conference. Dr. Teitelbaum is a member of the ASAM board of directors, and it was good to see him continuing his work on treating people with addiction.

After the ASAM meeting (and tracking down my suitcase), I was off again to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. APA is a huge conference where researchers and clinicians from all over the world get together to learn and share ideas. APA attendees can go to sessions from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. for four days straight!

There were many sessions worth highlighting from APA, but one that stood out was a session dedicated to remembering the pioneering work of G. Alan Marlatt. Dr. Marlatt was an addictions researcher at the University of Washington whose work on harm-reduction, brief interventions and college drinking pushed the field of addictions research into a new era and paved the way for many addiction researchers. Among the presenters was NCRG grantee Dr. Mary Larimar, who worked with Dr. Marlatt for almost 30 years and is currently applying some of Dr. Marlatt’s concepts on brief interventions for alcohol use disorders to gambling disorders.

Overall, both trips allowed me to connect with clinicians and researchers in direct and personal ways and I hope that many of the investigators I spoke with will apply for NCRG funding in the future. You never know if the poster presenter or graduate student you are speaking with will be the next Scott Teitelbaum, Mary Larimar or even the next G. Alan Marlatt. Here’s hoping for continued success for all the attendees of this year’s ASAM and APA conferences. 

Did you attend any conferences this year? Which conferences should the NCRG visit next year?

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