July 22nd, 2014

The Pleasure Of The Unexpected

Two months ago, I was one of the many thousands of attendees at the annual scientific conference of the American Psychiatric Association in New York City. This year I was not focused on having to make a presentation myself and could therefore just enjoy the opportunity to catch up on new developments.

Addiction-related presentations make up a small part of the entire program for the American Psychiatric Association, but they are of high quality. Some are basic, aimed at the general psychiatrist, while others are more “cutting edge.” I was encouraged to see how well attended these were. One was so packed that after I stepped out of one briefly, I was surprised to find that I could not get back in because the room had reached the capacity allowed by New York fire regulations.

For me, one of best parts of being at the American Psychiatric Association conference is the opportunity to have conversations with researchers and other clinicians. Some of these I had scheduled with people who I knew would be there, but many were spontaneous and unexpected.

At “poster sessions,” presenters from all over the world stand in front of one page abstracts of their research and are available to talk informally about their work. Because the process of publication can take so long, these posters reflect more current developments than those that appear in journals.

For example, I could discuss with a group of psychiatrists from Afghanistan how they were making progress convincing farmers to grow crops other than heroin poppies by having tribal elders speak to them about how drug use violated Islamic values. Afghanistan has the capacity to provide the entire world supply of heroin and the conventional strategy to address this by burning down farmers’ crops has not been effective.

Learning opportunities appear in other unexpected areas at the American Psychiatric Association. Because there are so many presentations that are not related to addictions, I have the chance to learn about developments in other areas, such as memory and psychosis, from leaders in those topics.

One last surprise, I had thought that the financial influence of the large pharmaceutical companies was so entrenched that despite the objections of American Psychiatric Association members over the years, these companies would continue to occupy a dominating presence at annual conference. I was pleased to see, however, that this had been scaled back to reasonable proportions with the companies promoting their products without the incentive of fancy “free” dinners, complete with limousine service.

In future posts, I will write about the specific content of some of the formal presentations. Contact us to learn more.

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