InWomen’s Conference Examines Global, Gender Impacts of Substance Use

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The virtual 12th International Women’s and Children’s Health and Gender Group (InWomen’s) Conference featured a keynote address, two panel presentation sessions, a panel discussion, two poster sessions, and a yoga break. Conference and InWomen’s chair Wendee M. Wechsberg, Ph.D., RTI International, welcomed participants and reviewed the state of gender studies of addiction during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also introduced Claire E. Sterk, Ph.D., the retiring president of Emory University, to close the conference. Quinn Gentry, Ph.D., M.B.A., president and chief executive officer of Messages of Empowerment Productions, LLC, discussed implications and inspiration from women who lead in addiction research and treatment.

Three presentations described innovative approaches to substance misuse treatment and research. Diane Abatemarco, Ph.D., M.S.W., Thomas Jefferson University, described how mindfulness-based interventions for mothers in treatment of opioid dependence improve parenting skills, decrease perceived stress and symptoms of depression, and may change the trajectory of intergenerational trauma and enhance the quality of children’s lives. Elizabeth Salemo Valdez, Ph.D., M.P.H., University of Massachusetts Amherst, discussed how the photo-voice approach to help young people describe factors influencing adolescent substance use on the U.S.–Mexico border has been confirmed with the Border Adolescent Substance Use Survey. She added that examining substance use from a social-ecological lens that includes the influence of drug trafficking, immigration-related stress, and disordered neighborhood and economic contexts may better help understand the experiences of border youth. Amy Wachholtz, Ph.D., University of Colorado Denver, and Nora L. Nock, Ph.D., P.E., Case Western Reserve University, reported on the effectiveness of psychotherapy and “assisted” exercises to treat comorbid pain and opioid use disorders.

Four researchers reported on the global impact of substance use, focusing on Kenya, Pakistan, Vietnam, and the U.S.–Mexico border. Melanie Nicholls, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., University of California San Diego and San Diego State University, described how financial stress and use of heroin, methamphetamines, and cocaine by women who work in the sex trade can influence their motivation to join community mobilization efforts. Bernice Apondi, M.A., Vocal-Kenya, discussed the need for opioid treatment programs to include peer support, behavior change, and job skills training to ensure that program graduates can maintain their recovery. Zeeshan Ayyaz, Amitiel Welfare Society, Pakistan, summarized efforts to document the stigma, discrimination, and need for harm reduction, drug treatment, and HIV services among people who inject drugs in Pakistan. Khuong Quynh Long, M.D., Hanoi University of Public Health, Vietnam, reported that respondent-driven sampling found that 16.5% of transgender women in Vietnam were HIV-positive and nearly one-fourth of those women did not know their HIV status before participating in the study. HIV prevalence among transgender women with a regular male partner was significantly lower compared with those who did not have a regular male partner. The HIV rate among transgender women using alkyl nitrite (“poppers”) was twice as high compared with those who did not use the drug.

Vasundhara Varthakavi, D.V.M., Ph.D., associate director of the NIDA HIV Research Program, moderated a discussion about the impact of COVID-19 on substance use treatment providers and survivors. Participants included Darlene Walker, M.A., director of Options for Recovery; Jamie Brown, childcare coordinator for Options for Recovery; Hendrée E Jones, Ph.D., executive director, Horizons; and survivors Bobby Izhar and Sandra Peralta.

Researchers presented 39 posters during 10 poster breakout sessions. The conference program noted that 25 poster presenters would have received a travel award had the meeting been held in person as originally envisioned. Sara Wechsberg, M.B.A., R.Y.T., led a virtual yoga break. The posters, program, and presenters’ slides are available online. Download the InWomen’s conference materials.