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Annual conferences

Annual Conference 2017

The 2017 annual conference will be held in Lisbon, Portugal.

At the first conference in 1990, nearly all the participants took an active role and presented their own research. This active participation has remained a characteristic feature of ESSD conferences and means that participants can actively and effectively share their experiences with their colleagues across Europe.

Because active participation has always been a key feature of the conferences, the ESSD has never sought to greatly enlarge the number of participants beyond 50, of whom approx. 35 give a presentation. There are no parallel sessions nor workshops and all presentations last for 15 minutes. After each two presentations, there are 15 minutes for discussion. This conference format has clearly enhanced the quality of discussions and facilitated the exchange of ideas and experiences. Such an atmosphere is also less threatening for participants new to the field, especially young and new researchers.

Another tradition has been to hold the conference in a different European country each year, preferably alternating between North, South, East and West Europe. Over twenty-five conferences have been held to date, in more than fifteen countries. The conference lasts for 2½ days (Thursday – Saturday) during September or October.


# year city country date abstracts
28 2017 Lisbon Portugal 21 Sep - 23 Sep  
27 2016 Frankfurt Germany 22 Sep - 24 Sep view
26 2015 Glasgow Scotland 03 Sep - 05 Sep  
25 2014 Nantes France 21 Sep - 27 Sep  
24 2013 Stockholm Sweden 19 Sep - 21 Sep view
23 2012 Athens Greece 04 Oct - 06 Oct view
22 2011 Aarhus Denmark 22 Sep - 24 Sep view
21 2010 Dubrovnik Croatia 30 Sep - 02 Oct  
20 2009 Belfast Northern Ireland 24 Sep - 26 Sep  
19 2008 Budapest Hungary 02 Oct - 04 Oct view
18 2007 Krakow Poland 11 Oct - 13 Oct  
17 2006 Lisbon Portugal 21 Sep - 23 Sep  
16 2005 Manchester United Kingdom 27 Oct - 29 Oct  
15 2004 Munich Germany 14 Oct - 16 Oct  
14 2003 Ghent Belgium 02 Oct - 04 Oct  
13 2002 Helsinki Finland 26 Sep - 28 Sep  
12 2001 Venice Italy 04 Oct - 06 Oct  
11 2000 Dublin Ireland 21 Sep - 23 Sep  
10 1999 Vienna Austria 20 Sep - 22 Sep  
9 1998 Palma de Mallorca Spain 01 Oct - 03 Oct  
8 1997 Oslo Norway 25 Sep - 27 Sep  
7 1996 Amsterdam Netherlands 26 Sep - 28 Sep  
6 1995 Coimbra Portugal 22 Sep - 24 Sep  
5 1994 Snderborg Denmark 18 Sep - 20 Sep  
4 1993 Rome Italy 20 Sep - 22 Sep  
3 1992 Loughborough United Kingdom 28 Sep - 30 Sep  
2 1991 Lyon France 26 Sep - 29 Sep  
1 1990 Cologne Germany 27 Sep - 29 Sep  

Organisation of the annual conference is largely in the hands of a local team. The ESSD Board advises each year’s local organiser on the conference themes, selection of abstracts and the conference programme. Any ESSD member can volunteer to hold the conference by contacting an ESSD Board member and their request will be considered by the board.

ESSD has no funding for conferences. There is no registration fee for participants and the conference is organised on a voluntary basis by the local organiser and their institution. The local organisers’ tasks include acquiring any funds necessary for, for example, hire of the venue, refreshments and for printing the conference programme and abstract book. 

Conference topics

Papers on social control and social policy have been presented at all ESSD conferences. ‘Social control’ generally referred to formal social control, such as legislation (e.g. criminalisation versus decriminalisation) and the role of the medical profession (e.g. inpatient treatment versus substitution programmes). Social control strategies and drug policies have been examined from local, national and cross-national perspectives. Some contributors focused on the current state-of-the-art, while others presented historical analyses.

All conferences so far have included presentations on the epidemiology of drug use. Over the past decade, these have focused increasingly on historical and cross-national issues. Concepts such as ‘trend’, ‘career’, ‘determinant’ and ‘lifestyle’ have gained prominence, reflecting the view of many researchers that the simple presentation of local, regional or national prevalence rates is not very useful from a scholarly point of view.

Most conferences have explicitly addressed criminological and economic issues. In some years, the focus was predominantly on the supply side of the illicit drugs market, whereas in others, more presentations dealt with the demand side and issues such as drug-related crime. Economists have analysed the dynamics of the illicit drug market and the comparative costs and benefits of law enforcement and treatment.

Morbidity and mortality have been discussed at several conferences. Initially, this theme was dominated by presentations on HIV and AIDS, but more recently there has been more emphasis on harm generally and on harm reduction.

Lifestyles, new drugs and new drug trends have also become more important topics over the years. This reflects developments in the illicit drugs market and a growing interest in re-search using qualitative methods, such as ethnographic studies.

At a more general level, most conferences have also addressed theoretical and methodological issues. Papers have been presented on self-report reliability, on the validity of official data on illicit drug use and on new data collection methods. The often problematic relationship between policy and research in the field of illicit drugs has also been discussed. In recent years, concepts such as ‘normalisation’ and ‘problem use’ have been significant issues in theoretical debates.

Several conferences have included special issues, mostly relating to interventions: prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. Though this may seem at odds with the aim of the ESSD, intervention has never been approached from a predominantly clinical perspective - the emphasis has been on sociological or evaluative research.

Gender was a special focus at the tenth conference and has been on the ESSD agenda - along with ethnicity - in subsequent years.

While some issues have remained relevant every year, others have proved time-related and did not survive the first decade of the ESSD. What has not changed is the active involvement in the conferences of researchers from various disciplines, sharing a common interest in the social study of illicit drugs using mainly qualitative research methods.