Kaimahi from Hapai te Hauora had the opportunity last week to attend the Addiction symposium held at Auckland University. This was an opportunity to provide a forum for addiction researchers from all disciplines to meet and share their work, and discuss issues of common interest to addiction researchers.

The mini symposium began with a mihi whakautau lead by Kaumatua Bob Hawke (Ngati Whatua). He stated that “we come here today to discuss the mammoth task for our whanau of reducing drug and alcohol addiction”. This whakatau outlined the impact of addiction for whanau and a shared vision of enhancing the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders. As a researcher, this for me means providing sound evidence on drugs and alcohol, to better inform policy and practice in treating and preventing addictive consumptions.

In this reflection, we will share our thoughts on a few of the presentations from the day.

To begin, Dr Peter Saxton discussed current evidence on “PrEP”- a new HIV prevention drug which Pharmac recently announced it will be funding. Pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP refers to the use of HIV medication by people who are HIV-negative in order to reduce their risk of HIV infection. He set the scene by describing the expanding epidemic of HIV and its increasing cost, and what positive impact PrEP will have on those who meet the risk criteria. This includes gay or bisexual men who struggle to maintain consistent condom use, those who are sexually active with an HIV positive partner, and those who use meth while engaging in unprotected sex. One key point we took from this presentation was that we can reduce the number of new HIV infections in New Zealand if PrEP is implemented alongside existing condom- promotion efforts. It was also illuminating to learn about the pervasiveness in which methamphetamine affects communities in New Zealand- regardless of socio-economic status, sexual orientation or lifestyle. It was encouraging to learn about their recent pilot study in Auckland which provided sound evidence for the acceptability and implementation of PrEP being funded.

In another presentation, Dr Chris Bullen discussed current evidence on e-cigarettes. He began by highlighting the fast moving industry that e-cigarettes operate within and what impact this has on protective regulations such as quality control and standardization of its products. Dr Bullen discussed research which has shown that e-cigarettes are becoming progressively better at giving nicotine, they can reduce the urge to smoke tobacco, and they help those trying to quit smoking tobacco, however we need to consider other ongoing issues like dual use and the lack of standardization and quality control. Dr Bullen ended with a topical concern; whether vaping is gateway drug. He covered evidence from the UK and United States which showed that the proportion of young people who use e-cigarettes is infrequent and experimental, and stated that “regardless of what you say about vaping as a gateway drug, smoking is decreasing in young people”. As kaimahi for Hapai who are invested in tobacco control, this was encouraging because we see vaping as a significant opportunity to accelerate New Zealand’s progress towards its first generation of Smoke-Free New Zealanders.

While we know that addiction disproportionately affects Maori and Pacifica whanau, we recognize the importance of bringing our non-Maori colleagues and community along with us in this mahi. There will never be enough Maori health workers, researchers, or teachers to meet our needs so we see learning opportunities like the Addiction Symposium as important to be able to work alongside other tauiwi researchers for the collective impact of transforming our health and wellbeing.