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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Uwe Verthein

 

Uwe Verthein
Centre for Interdisciplinary Addiction Research of Hamburg University

 

To use or not to use (anymore)’


Why does one person use drugs while another is able to resist the temptation? And why does one person become addicted while another does not? These important questions will be explored over the next few years in an ERANID project led by Dr. Uwe Verthein of Centre for Interdisciplinary Addiction Research of Hamburg University (ZIS).

 


The research project ‘Understanding Pathways to Stimulant Use’ will focus on amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) like ‘speed’, meth, ecstasy and other ‘party drugs’, the second-most frequently used illegal drugs in the world. ‘Interestingly enough, there are people who take a pill every now and then and have no problem’, says Verthein, ‘while others become addicted and experience all the attendant problems. We want to know what causes these differences’.

Qualitative and quantitative research
A consortium of research institutions from 5 countries – Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, the UK and the Czech Republic – are implementing the project, which will involve both qualitative and quantitative research. ‘We will start in 2017 with the qualitative research, interviewing some 270 users and non-users in these five countries,’ says Verthein. ‘In 2018 we will start on the quantitative part, presenting a questionnaire to around 2000 people.’ The focus will then be on the impact of individual differences, social influences, environment and culture on drug use pathways.

6 groups
Finding all the subjects for the study will be a challenge, particularly because the researchers want to survey 6 different groups: dependent users, users in remission, frequent non-dependent users, formerly non-dependent users, non-frequent users and non-stimulant users. This last group encompasses people who have come into contact with these drugs but never use them. ‘We will have to be creative if we are to find large groups of all these people in all five countries’, Verthein explains, ‘so we plan to use the snowball method. Once we have found someone in a group we will ask him or her to put forward other people to take part in the study.’

International comparison
Even though the total number of people participating in the study will be fairly large, the numbers per group and per country will be relatively small. This will make identifying the differences between countries a complicated matter. Nevertheless, Verthein believes it will be possible because some groups can be combined for analysis. However, he does emphasise the fact that comparisons between countries are complex because the situation differs from country to country: different circumstances, different drug policies and perhaps slightly different profiles in each group.

Collaboration
Collaboration with other countries is a requirement for a study to qualify for an ERANID grant. Even though the Czech Republic did not join the first ERANID call officially as a funder, it is still participating in this study. ‘We have had a successful scientific cooperation with this research group for many years and they were keen to participate,’ Verthein explains. ‘They are bringing in their own budget.’ The ERANID project is not actually receiving European funding; each participating research group will bring in funding from its own national government. These governments have ‘pooled’ their resources to encourage international collaboration and achieve greater ‘mass’.

Stimulating
Verthein is no stranger to international collaboration. ‘We have been doing it for about 20 years. It is very stimulating to learn from fellow researchers in other countries. Everyone brings their own expertise to the project, and that’s fascinating. It makes us stronger, even though it does sometimes take a little more time.’ The kick-off meeting was held recently. The research groups will meet about four times over the next three years. They will also have numerous informal meetings, as the researchers will encounter each other frequently. ‘We won’t be working everything out down to the smallest details at the formal meetings,’ says Verthein. ‘We will discuss the outlines, and everyone’s views, and then we will draw up the final documents via email.’

Lucky
The project has to be completed within three years. This will be quite a challenge, although Verthein is pleased they managed to obtain funding for such a relatively long period. ‘These days most projects last no longer than two years, simply because there is no more money to go round. So we’re lucky.’ He hopes the project will not only produce new insights and some good publications, but also that they will be able to make recommendations as to how to prevent addiction to these drugs. ‘But for that we’ll need powerful results. That’s what we’re aiming for.’

 

> More information on the funded projects in the first ERANID call for proposals 'Understanding drug use pathways'