Plenary Speakers

ISAM plenary speakers
Prof. Min Zhao
Prof. Min Zhao

Professor Min Zhao

Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China

Professor Min Zhao is a Professor in Psychiatry and Vice President of the Chinese Association of Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment, Institute of Mental Health at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Min does research in clinical pharmacology, psychiatry and addiction medicine and worked on more than 10 national and international research projects focused on drug abuse clinical research. She is also a member of the UNODC informal scientific network.
Plenary: Neuromodulation for Substance Use Disorders: Current Situation and Future Direction

Neuromodulation has recently shown significant promise as an effective treatment for substance use disorders. This approach to treatment involves altering nerve activity through the targeted delivery of a stimulus, such as electrical stimulation, to specific neurological sites in the body. In addiction medicine, non-invasive neuromodulation primarily includes repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), transcranial electrical stimulation, and vagus nerve stimulation. There have been more than thirty rTMS studies for substance use disorders to date. In this session, Professor Min Zhao of Shanghai Jiao Tong University will review the efficacy of transcranial magnetic stimulation in the treatment of substance use disorders. She will consider the current limitations and future direction of rTMS for addiction, and share results from her own research group, along with a series of rTMS intervention protocols they have developed for methamphetamine use disorder.

Dr. Devora Kestel

Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, World Health Organization

Dr. Devora Kestel is responsible for leading the World Health Organization’s work in the areas of mental health and substance abuse. She studied psychology in her native Argentina before moving to Italy where she worked in the mental health field for 10 years before joining the WHO office in Kosovo in 2000. She was Unit Chief in Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the Pan American Health Organization before her appointment as the WHO Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse in 2018.

Plenary: Strengthening the Global Response to Substance Use and Addictive Behaviours: Recent Developments and Post-Pandemic Future
Consolidated and coherent global actions are needed to promote mental health, reduce the health burden associated with substance use, and to ensure appropriate attention to substance use and addictive behaviours in the current and future developmental agendas. In this plenary session, you’ll hear about new global action plans, initiatives and products from the World Health Organizations, including: the WHO Special Initiative on Mental Health, the draft global alcohol action plan 2022-2030, the WHO-led SAFER initiative on alcohol, the WHO-UNODC initiative on opioid overdose prevention, and the WHO recommendations on treatment of substance use disorders in non-specialized health care settings within the WHO mhGAP program.

Professor Rajita Sinha

Yale University School of Medicine and Founding Director Yale Interdisciplinary Stress Center, United States

Professor Rajita Sinha, Ph.D. is the Foundations Fund Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University and also Professor of Neurobiology and Child Study. She is Chief of the Psychology section in Psychiatry and Co-Director of Education at the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation, home of the NIH supported Yale Clinical Translational Science Award. She is the Founding Director of the Yale Stress Center, a university-wide center that focuses on understanding the stress mechanisms affecting health behaviors, mood and emotion regulation and chronic disease risk. She is internationally known for her pioneering research on the mechanisms underlying chronic stress and adversity to negative health consequences and those underlying resilient coping that promote health and disease prevention. Her research has made discoveries in identifying childhood trauma, chronic stress and addiction-related brain and peripheral changes in stress pathways that affect behavioral choices and decision-making and loss of control to increase addiction and chronic disease risk. She is also developing and testing new pharmacological and behavioral strategies to reverse the toxic effects of stress and addictive behaviors such as excessive alcohol use, overeating of high fat and high sugar foods and other behavioral addictions. These objectives are being accomplished through a series of NIH-funded research projects and she has published widely on these topics. She has served on many NIH special emphasis panels, review committees and workshops, presented at numerous national and international conferences, and her work is widely cited.
Plenary: Addiction and Stress Vulnerabilities: Relationship to Risk and Relapse Outcomes

Stress and trauma has long been associated with addiction risk and relapse, but specific neural and biobehavioral processes by which stress interacts with chronic drug use to promote and increase drug seeking, addiction relapse and other addictive behaviors have only recently received attention. Individuals with substance use disorders (SUD), including opioid use disorder (OUD), have higher rates of trauma, stress and stress-related mood and anxiety disorders. Drawing from human laboratory, brain imaging, longitudinal outcomes, real world daily data, and clinical treatment development research, Dr. Sinha will focus on specific adaptations in peripheral hypothalamic pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis responses, brain reward and stress pathways, and show how these alterations map on to functional changes that promote increased craving, greater drug withdrawal and abstinence symptoms and risk of relapse and poor treatment outcomes.

She will then focus on the need for interventions to address such stress-related pathophysiology of substance use disorders and provide clinical outcome research examples of potential targets for treatment to improve outcomes in SUD, including OUD. She will also discuss and present behavioral intervention strategies to reduce risk of stress-related poor treatment outcomes in OUD. Finally, she will highlight the heterogeneity and diversity in substance use disorders and present precision medicine models utilized in other diseases to discuss their application in the treatment of and recovery from substance use disorders.

Dr. Christos Kouimtsidis, MBBS, MSc, FRCPsych, PhD​

National Health Service, United Kingdom​

Dr. Christos Kouimtsidis is a consultant in addiction psychiatry at the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. He is Honorary Senior Lecturer at Imperial College London and St. Andrew’s University, Scotland, and the National Coordinator for Addressing Drugs in Greece.
Plenary: Drug Policy and Human Rights: Do They Actually Support Each Other?

The global nature of the drug phenomenon demands national, regional and multilateral approaches. In this plenary session, Dr. Kouimtsidis will discuss the clear consensus that drug policies must be pragmatic, based on facts rather than on ideology, and seek to reduce the harm that drug use causes. It is our common responsibility to pursue a comprehensive approach that combines health, criminal justice and social services, and that respects and protects human rights.

Kouimtsidis will advocate for an integrated, balanced and multidisciplinary approach in which efforts to reduce both supply and demand for drugs are viewed as equally important and mutually reinforcing. Civil society has a crucial role to play to increase awareness, reduce stigma and discrimination, and to promote dialogue and exchanges of best practices. Solid evidence on all aspects of the drug situation worldwide is critical to boost timely and proactive responses, to inform policy and measure results. There is a need, more than ever, for reliable and robust drug-monitoring information which should be the basis for defining reliable and clear policy priorities and for investing in areas of proven effectiveness.

Professor Patrice Forget, M.D. Ph.D

University of Aberdeen, Scotland

Professor Patrice Forget, M.D. Ph.D., has worked as clinical professor in anaesthesia and pain medicine in Belgium, and as President of the Belgian Pain Society. In 2019, he was appointed as Clinical Chair in Anaesthesia at the University of Aberdeen (UK), and Honorary Consultant at the NHS Grampian. Dr. Forget is involved in clinical research, focused on mainly perioperative epidemiology, pain and clinical pharmacology. For the last ten years, as principal investigator and/or national coordinator, he published more than 130 articles, letters or editorials.
Plenary: Opioids After Surgery and Trauma in Europe: Is There an Opioid Epidemic?

Are post-surgical opioids a problem or a solution? Can we do better? What are the best practices and current research priorities and questions? In this plenary presentation, Professor Patrice Forget of Scotland’s University of Aberdeen will present evidence regarding the persistent use of postoperative opioids, as well as recent multidisciplinary consensus statements on the use of opioids for acute pain at both patient and policy levels. Finally, he will discuss ongoing studies and projects to illustrate how we could improve our knowledge.

Dr. Mindy Fullilove

New School for Social Research, United States

Dr. Mindy Fullilove is a social psychiatrist who explores the ties between environment and mental health. She received her bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr College and her MS and MD degrees from Columbia University. She completed residency at NY Hospital Westchester Division and Montefiore and is board certified in psychiatry. With her colleagues at the Cities Research Group and the University of Orange, Dr. Fullilove explores the consequences of social fracture for our society and our health and seeks ways to reconnect the broken parts. Prior to joining the New School full-time in 2016, Dr. Fullilove taught at Columbia University and was a lecturer at Parsons. She has published six books and numerous articles, and her professional affiliations include the American Psychiatric Association (APA), American Public Health Association (APHA), and the American Institute of Architects.
Plenary: Displacement, Intergenerational Trauma and Addiction

Displacement is a monumental global problem — according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than 82.4 million people were forcibly displaced in 2020 alone. Today, long-standing causes of displacement including war and development are compounded by the upheavals caused by climate change. Displacement disrupts generational bonds and takes generations to heal, and displaced people are highly vulnerable to addiction. In this talk, Dr. Mindy Fullilove of the New School for Social Research will discuss the social integration that is needed to heal these harms.

Professor Atul Ambekar

National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre, India

Dr. Atul Ambekar is a professor at India’s National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre and Department of Psychiatry at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. He is the founding Secretary General of the Addiction Psychiatry Society of India and has been a member of many international and national expert bodies in the field of drug addiction including the Expert Advisory Panel on Drug Dependence at the World Health Organization in Geneva, the Strategic Advisory Group on IDU and HIV at the United Nations, and the National Consultative Committee on Drug Demand Reduction and Rehabilitation in India. He has published several research papers, practice guidelines and training manuals in the field of addiction psychiatry.
Plenary: The International Scheduling System for Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances: Does it Need an Overhaul?

The three United Nations Drug Conventions form the bedrock of the international drug control framework, the stated aim of which is to curb diversion and misuse of controlled products while ensuring access for medical and scientific purposes. It has been unsuccessful on both counts. Production, trafficking and consumption of so-called ‘illicit’ drugs continues unabated, while there are gross inequities in the availability of controlled medications for genuine medical indications.

In this session, Professor Atul Ambekar of India’s National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre will explain the system that exists for evaluating and classifying drugs under the United Nations conventions. He will examine the roles of the World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), a political body. He will offer a critical analysis of the review process, the framing of recommendations and the debate and manoeuvring that take place during CND deliberations. In particular, he will focus on the CND’s recent decision to accept the ECDD’s recommendation to reclassify cannabis while rejecting additional recommendations to change the classification of other cannabis-related substances designed to ensure their availability for medical use whilst preventing harms associated with non-medical use.

Dr. Magdalena Harris

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom

Dr. Magdalena Harris is an Associate Professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Her expertise lies in qualitative methods and the social sciences of hepatitis C and harm reduction. Drm Harris has been based at London School since 2009, where she conducts a mixed-methods programme of research focussed on understanding and reducing the health and social harms experienced by people who inject drugs in the UK. She was awarded the 2020 Society for the Study of Addiction Impact Award in recognition of her high-quality, innovative research and its positive, practical impact for people who inject drugs, and is leading a collaborative project proposal aiming to improve hospital care for people dependent on illicit opioids. Magdalena has published widely in the fields of sociology, public health and harm reduction and is an Associate Editor for the International Journal of Drug Policy.
Plenary: Skin and Soft Tissue Infections Among People who Inject Drugs: Reinvigorating a Needed Harm Reduction Response

Skin, soft tissue and venous infections (SSTVIs) are an increasing cause of acute and chronic morbidity among people who inject drugs globally. SSTVI-related complications are a leading cause of hospitalisation for this group, with delays in care precipitating systemic infections such as septicaemia and endocarditis. For many people who inject drugs, SSTVIs constitute a hidden epidemic of suffering that impacts the most marginalised: those who are unstably housed, economically insecure and living with multiple morbidities. SSTVI complications are exacerbated by and can entrench experiences of social exclusion.

In this plenary presentation, Dr. Harris will present an overview of SSTVIs among people who inject drugs and introduce data generated for a recent London-based study with 455 participants. Findings include those related to a hypothesised causal pathway between overuse of acidifier for injection, venous damage and SSTVI risk; environmental constraints to safe injecting practice; and the role of opioid withdrawal in delaying or interrupting hospital-based SSTVI treatment. Capacitating culturally safe care can reduce treatment interruption and serious SSTVI complications among people who inject drugs, while enhancing trust and reducing shame among a highly stigmatised and marginalised population.

George F. Koob, Ph.D.

National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, United States

Dr. George Koob is an internationally recognized expert on alcohol, stress, and the neurobiology of alcohol and drug addiction. He is the Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism where he leads efforts to reduce the public health burden associated with alcohol misuse and oversees a broad portfolio of alcohol research. His work has advanced our understanding of the physiological effects of alcohol and has helped us understand why some people transition from use to misuse to addiction, while others do not. He has authored more than 650 peer-reviewed scientific papers and is a co-author of The Neurobiology of Addiction, a comprehensive textbook reviewing the most critical neurobiology of addiction research conducted over the past 50 years. He has received many prestigious honors and awards for his research, mentorship, and international scientific collaboration.
Plenary: Alcohol and Drug Addiction: The Gain in the Brain is in the Pain

In this session, George Koob of the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism will explore the role that hyperkatifeia plays in addiction and deaths of despair. Hyperkatifeia (derived from the Greek katifeia, for dejection or sadness) is an increase in intensity of the constellation of negative emotional or motivational signs and symptoms of withdrawal from drugs of abuse. He will introduce compelling evidence that hyperkatifeia triggered by excessive drug intake is sensitized during the development of compulsive alcohol use, persists into protracted abstinence, and contributes to the development and persistence of compulsive drug seeking. Finally, he will explore how significant overlap in the engagement in addiction of circuits mediating brain emotional pain and brain physical pain may help explain the prominent role of alcohol and drugs in deaths of despair.

Professor John Dillon

University of Dundee, Scotland

John Dillon is Professor of Hepatology and Gastroenterology in the Division of Molecular and Clinical Medicine at the University of Dundee School of Medicine and an Honorary Consultant with NHS Tayside. He is an award-winning researcher whose interests include new pathways of care for patients with abnormal LFTs, for people infected with HCV, new therapies for HCV infection, as well as novel diagnostics and treatments for NAFLD. His research activities stretch from the bench to the bedside and out into the community. He has published over 200 peer reviewed original research papers and has delivered over 200 international lectures on liver disease. He currently chairs the Scottish HCV Action Plan Clinical Leads Group, is a member of the Scottish Government’s Ministerial advisory board for blood borne viruses and sexual health and is past-president of the Scottish Society of Gastroenterology. He previously led the development group of the UK consensus guidelines for HCV and has chaired both the Hepatitis C SIGN guideline development group and the SHAAP group that produced the recent “Alcohol-related liver disease: guidance for good practice” documents.
Plenary: Community-Based Approaches to Eliminating Hepatitis C

The Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is a fatal infectious disease that affects the most vulnerable, deprived and stigmatised members of our society and disproportionately affects people with addictions. In this session, Professor John Dillon will introduce new methodologies and care pathways to deliver support, treatment and cure to people affected by HCV. He will show how the combination of these new care pathways and patient-focussed treatment have delivered high levels of HCV cure and placed leading sites on the verge of HCV elimination, while also improving outcomes for patients across a range of health and social outcomes.

Dr. Dan Lubman

Monash University, Australia

Professor Dan Lubman is the Executive Clinical Director of Turning Point, Australia’s leading national addiction treatment, research and education centre, and the inaugural Director of the Monash Addiction Research Centre and Professor of Addiction Studies and Services at Australia’s Monash University. He is a psychiatrist and addiction medicine specialist who has worked across mental health and drug treatment settings in both the UK and Australia. His research includes investigating the harms associated with alcohol, drugs and gambling, the impact of alcohol and drug use on brain function, the relationship between substance use, gambling, suicide and mental disorder, as well as the development of clinical resources and targeted telephone, online and face-to-face intervention programs within community, school, primary care, mental health and drug treatment settings.
Plenary: Rethinking Addiction: Confronting Stigma and Harnessing the Power of Real Stories

Addiction remains one of the most stigmatised health conditions globally. It affects people of all ages and all backgrounds, yet common stereotypes prevail. The politicisation of drug use, coupled with negative stories in media and film, reinforce these stereotypes and perpetuate stigma.

A devastating consequence of the shame, discrimination and judgement that many individuals and families experience is an almost two-decade delay in in help-seeking, compounded by multiple barriers to treatment. Yet society refuses to have an honest conversation about how we respond to alcohol, drug and gambling-related harm. How do we start to change the conversation and counter the many myths associated with addiction?

In this presentation, Dr. Dan Lubman of Australia’s Monash University will discuss how the recent Australian documentary series Addicted Australia has challenged stigma and stereotypes through humanising narratives and increased community awareness. He will also explore learnings from the national Rethink Addiction campaign in Australia, which has been an important platform for helping to tell the real stories of addiction and to advocate for change.