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Conference Report:
Erowid at the APHA Association Meeting & Exhibition
by Erowid
Jun 2007
Citation:   Erowid. "Conference Report: Erowid at the APHA Association Meeting & Exhibition" Jun 2007.
The APHA conference is the oldest and largest gathering of public health professionals in the world ("attracting more than 13,000 national and international physicians, administrators, nurses, educators, researchers, epidemiologists, and related health specialists").

In June 2006 we reserved a booth for the November 2006 trade show ("Exposition") that happens concurrently with the panels, keynote addresses and poster sessions of the conference ("Meeting"). In planning a booth for this event, the two most helpful people we talked with prior to going to Boston were Bruce Mirken of Marijuana Policy Project and Dr. Alan Trachtenberg. MPP has had a booth at APHA since at least 2003. Dr. Trachtenberg is in alternative medicine and addiction medicine and has extensive experience working with NIDA and related gov orgs. He suggested we have a large screen available at our booth to display pages from the site, and said that people would respond to data (graphs and surveys). He encouraged us to submit an abstract at a future APHA conference.

Overview of the booth
Not surprisingly, Erowid did not fit into any niches among exhibitors. We selected a booth across the aisle from NIDA, because it seemed like a reasonable position. When we spoke to representatives of the Association of Professional Piercers, who have had a booth at APHA for years, they said they have liked getting placed near the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) zone because of the good amount of foot traffic they get as a consequence. This may be a consideration if we participate in APHA in the future.

Booth - Pros
The tasteful décor of the booth was appreciated and commented upon. The large-screen monitor was eye-catching (yet few people commented on the content that was streaming on it). We were well situated on a corner near the main entry of the entire room full of 675+ exhibitors, and near the bathroom. Corner placement was a good idea.

Booth - Cons
Clearly, for such an event, more literature (variety, not numbers) would not be a bad idea for increasing traffic. The Erowid banner ( - Documenting the complex relationship between humans and psychoactives) communicated nothing to most of the people who came by the booth, unless they already knew about the site. But, that also served as a conversation starter for the people curious enough to inquire. A typical question was "what does Erowid mean?" or "what are you?". "Psychoactive" appears to communicate about as much as "entheogen" to most of the people we had the opportunity to interact with. Even after an explanation, it appeared to be a bit unclear to people as they walked off. One M.D. who volunteered at the booth with us for a few hours on Tuesday commented that the majority of the people walking by likely held a "drugs are bad" opinion. So, it is still unclear what the 'average' person seeing the booth would think about Erowid.

Literature to hand out
Fortunately, a good document was available following Fire and Earth's preparation for the toxicology conference ("The Evolution of Erowid: Straddling a Very Tall Fence"). This was well suited for APHA, except a more descriptive title for the document would have been preferable. (When an MD colleague came by the booth, that was the first thing he commented on, "It needs to be descriptive, this title doesn't communicate what the document is about").

We created a quiz for visitors to fill out, which was a cute idea and was worth the effort of making it. However, it was not as interesting to the majority of people who stopped at the booth as we imagined it would be. Also, most people who filled it out could only answer one or two of the questions.

In participating in this event we realized that since the field of public health is an agglomeration of specializations (a major issue in public health these days is disaster response, for example), only a small subset of people at the exhibition were substance use/abuse specialists or had dealt with the topic in their professional lives. Any future participation in APHA would demand that we produce concise literature that introduces Erowid to a general audience.

Notes on visitor interactions
Most of the people with whom booth volunteers interacted seemed to have never heard of Erowid. Many of them were MDs or PhDs. We did receive a few comments from people who were clearly familiar with the site.

Common questions were:
  • "Where do you get your information?"
  • "What is the purpose of the site?"
  • "What do you do?"
  • "What is 'psychoactive?'"
Visitor comments:
  • A physician affiliated with a NIDA work group was very complimentary, saying he was "glad to see faces behind the web pages".
  • A woman said she was surprised that this was our first APHA, and encouraged us to come back since "it's good for this group to become familiar with Erowid".
  • A woman walked by and called out "I love psychoactive plants, they're fun. I'm a child of the '60s!"
  • A researcher who studies club drugs and surveys kids about drug use complimented us, remarking, "You'd be surprised how often your site comes up [in my work]."
  • A young woman appeared puzzled that we were there, saying, "I thought it was just some site some college students put together, I didn't know it was legit!"
  • Newark Health Department employee, mostly working in infectious disease, mentioned the recent heroin-related deaths and how people in her department were asking themselves, "what do we tell people" about the fact that the material was strong.
  • A highlight of the event occurred when the first person stopped by the booth. A chaplain and police department captain, he stopped, shocked, and said "I've never seen YOU at a conference before!" "You have great info", "I recommend you to everyone". As a school resource officer (SRO) trainer, he said he wants his SROs to use the site. We gave him an endorsement card.
The most ironic interaction occurred when an MD, FAAOH, MPH, who blinked when we used the word psychoactives, said "not my cup of tea" and walked off. Priceless. It was similarly interesting how many groups attracted people to their booths with candy.

Meeting presentations
A number of APHA conference panels, presentations and posters dealt with the topic of psychoactives drugs. We missed most of them because we were busy staffing the Erowid booth.

Titles of a sampling the panels, with emphasis on Erowid-related topics:
  • Prescription Drug Abuse in Young People: Prevalence, Patterns, Factors and Treatment.
    (the moderator of this panel, who came by the Erowid booth later, had never heard of Erowid. She was very friendly and interested to learn about the site)
  • AOD and the Chronic Disease Model: Response and Emerging Priorities
    (AOD stands for Alcohol and Other Drugs)
  • Building Global Tobacco Control
  • What's the Tobacco Industry up to Now?
  • Evaluation Update: Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment
  • Research on Spirit, Mind and Meditation
  • Politics, Policy and Community Action: Best Practices to Combat Underage Drinking
  • From Campus to Around the Globe - A Look at Alcohol Poster Session
  • A Multivariate Meta-Analysis on the Effectiveness of School-Based Drug Prevention Program Treatment Challenges: The Prescription and the Prescriber (included methadone, buprenorphine issues)
  • Drinking Patterns, Health and Social Problems: New Results with Public Health Significance from the 2005 National Alcohol Survey
  • Cookbook Solutions for Methamphetamine Challenges
  • New Approaches to Smoking Cessation
  • Dialogue of Perspectives on Methamphetamine Challenges and Emerging Issues
  • Whether on the Street or in the Classroom: Youth Drinking Behaviors and Solutions
  • Special Populations Dilemmas in Substance Abuse:
    • Behavioral effects of caffeinated cola consumption on first graders
    • Epidemiology of tryptamine and phenethylamine use amongst high risk youth
    • Substance Relationship between initiation of smoking tobacco and marijuana use in youth.
  • Club Drugs Panel:
    • Club drug use in young adults in new York City: Descriptive profile
    • Drug use and subcultural transition among rave/club attendees in Denver
    • "Garbage Heads": High-end polydrug abusing ecstasy users and their involvement in HIV risk behaviors
    • Resurgence of cocaine among club-going young adults
    • Health risks among a cohort of young ketamine injectors
This event's experience and contacts can inform the project, and also help to elucidate what Erowid's identify is in the face of public health discourse (by virtue of examining the questions we got at the booth). For more perspective on this event, see "Conference Report: Drugs: American Public Health Association 2006." Erowid Extracts. Jun 2007; 12:5.