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New approaches to tackling addiction in Europe

Annual health footprint reports and better targeted interventions could lead to more effective addictive substance policies say EU-funded researchers.

Researchers from the EU-funded ALICE RAP project have urged policy makers to pursue the concept of a ‘health footprint’ in order to better quantify the negative impact that regulators and producers of addictive substances can have on health. Each year, some 21.1 million years of life are lost by citizens in the EU due to tobacco, alcohol and illegal drug use. Annual health footprint The project team want to see governments and companies involved in the production of alcohol, tobacco and other addictive substances publish an annual health footprint, which would also indicate the measures they plan to take to further reduce harm. This footprint would measure the harm from products and inadequate polices, would show who is producing what harm, and act as an incentive for companies and governments to do something more to reduce damage. In effect, this footprint would function in the same way as the concept of a carbon footprint is used to hold actors accountable for their carbon emissions, and to encourage positive action. For example, national governments could improve their health footprint by implementing evidence-based policies and regulations, while alcohol companies could produce lower alcohol concentration products. The health footprint concept was one of the key issues discussed with international addiction experts at a high level conference in Barcelona, Spain in February 2016, an event attended by over 100 scientists, policy makers, clinical professionals and civil society actors. This event marked the culmination of the five year ALICE RAP project, which since 2011 has sought to re-frame perceptions and practices around the governance of addictions and lifestyles, in order to better inform decision-making. Other recommendations In addition to the health footprint concept, the project also wants to see the adoption of a more accurate and practical definition of ‘heavy use over time’ in public health discourse, which could lead to more effective policies. Researchers also identified underlying and immediate drivers of addictive behaviour. For example, one key project finding was that cognitive behavioural sessions provided to sensation-seeking teenagers could substantially reduce their consumption of cannabis. Sensation-seekers are identified as being particularly inclined to taking risks, seeking adventure and new experiences, being disinhibited and largely intolerant to boredom. The project found that the sessions delayed the onset of cannabis use in all youth, and consistently showed that the programme was particularly effective in preventing cannabis use among sensation seekers. The project team believes that future studies should look at the motivations for cannabis use amongst people with other at-risk personality types in order to develop effective intervention programmes. The ALICE RAP project brought together over 150 scientists from 27 countries, representing a total of 1 000 months of scientific endeavour, from disciplines as diverse as anthropology and toxicology. It analysed the complex network of biological, economic, historical, medical, political and social aspects of drug use, addictive behaviour and governance, with a view to informing a widespread debate on the concept and regulation of the problems caused by addictions. ALICE RAP is due for final completion at the end of March 2016. For further information please visit: ALICE-RAP project website

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