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Conference Report:
American Public Health Association Conference and Exhibition
by S. Thyssen
Jun 2007
Citation:   Thyssen S. "Conference Report: American Public Health Association Conference and Exhibition". Erowid Extracts. Jun 2007;12:3.
APHA Exhibition Hall, Boston 2006 The American Public Health Association (APHA) conference is the oldest, largest gathering of public health professionals in the world and is attended by more than 13,000 physicians, nurses, educators, researchers, and related health specialists.

Years ago I saw an APHA position paper about medical marijuana, and had since associated this public health organization with reasonable opinions on drug-related issues. For the last two years, I'd been thinking about ways to bring Erowid's name and work more attention among this group. In May 2006 I brought up the idea of running an Erowid booth at the APHA's November event in Boston. We decided to go forward with the plan, and I reserved a space, selecting to be positioned across the aisle from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

It turned out to be a good placement. One of the biggest values we can provide to such conferences is to represent alternate viewpoints about the potential benefits and risks of psychoactives. Being near NIDA allowed us to hear how they presented key issues such as MDMA neurotoxicity and to provide a somewhat different point of view on these same issues.

The event hosted hundreds of booths run by government agencies, universities, nonprofits, medical supply companies, etc. The Erowid table, decked out with comfortable furniture from the homes of local supporters, featured a large flatscreen monitor displaying a slide show of plant, chemical, and drug photos, as well as screen shots from the site. We also handed out issues of Erowid Extracts and other literature to visitors.

APHA Exhibition Hall, Boston 2006 Lux and I ran the booth for four days, assisted by several volunteers. A large percentage of people we encountered had not heard of Erowid, which surprised us. Most people who stopped by were friendly and curious. We answered a lot of questions about what Erowid does and what our agenda is. We spoke with about 150 visitors, giving away literature to them and perhaps another couple dozen people.

Visitor Comments
We did receive a few comments from people who were clearly familiar with Erowid.

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!"

A police department captain stopped, shocked, and said, "I've never seen YOU at a conference before!" In the course of conversation he added, "You have great info [...] I recommend you to everyone."

I would only characterize a single interaction as in any way antagonistic. That was a conversation Sylvia and I had with a nurse who was very concerned that her teenage children might gain access to harmful information through sites such as ours. She seemed a little agitated, but was courteous and left on a moderately-positive note, acknowledging that the questions regarding access to information are complex.
-- Lux
Analysis
The experience of attending the event and the contacts we made will help inform future work with professionals of all sorts. Examining the response we got from attendees can also help us to elucidate what Erowid's identity is within the realm of public health discourse. Substance use and abuse represents only a small subset of public health concerns, thus Erowid is little known among most people in the field.

Submitting an abstract would increase the impact of Erowid's participation in a future APHA, and literature designed for the event would be best aimed at a general audience rather than an audience of informed peers.

Running a booth at the APHA conference was an exploratory mission -- an Erowid probe into the world of public health. There are clear benefits both for the attendees and for Erowid, but it was also quite expensive. Because of the cost, it's an activity we can only justify when enough funding is available.