Review of Street Drugs Wales: Is the Dragon still smoking?

Drugs COnference

Third in the exciting series of Street Drugs events, Street Drugs Wales: Is the Dragon still smoking? brought together academics, practitioners, commissioners, policy makers and other key stakeholders working in the field of substance misuse in Wales. 

Organised and funded by a consortium of organisations including USW’s Substance Use Research Group (SURG), Barod, Kaleidoscope, Welsh Government and the British Association for Psychopharmacology, the event was held on Tuesday 25th June 2019 in USW’s Atrium theatre. 

It was attended by a vibrant crowd of nearly 150 people from across Wales all eager to learn and contribute to the discussion.


The event was formally opened by USW’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Julie Lydon OBE, whose introductory speech outlined the aims of the day-long conference, which were: to examine contemporary issues relating to the use of street drugs, to stimulate debate and, most importantly, to encourage innovative responses to help reverse the ever-rising number of drug-related deaths in the UK.

Following this, speakers from across Europe, including our very own Professor Katy Holloway and Dr Tom May, delivered fascinating presentations that either summarised findings from interesting research projects or reflected on professional and/or personal experiences of working in the field. 

Silje Bakken, for example, discussed the use of social media as a form of online drug markets, while Nuno Capaz spoke about his experience of working within the Portuguese Ministry of Health’s Dissuasion Commission and provided an overview of the decriminalisation model of drug possession operating in Portugal.


Professor Alex Stevens from the University of Kent gave an impassioned presentation that considered what a public health approach to drug policy in the UK would look like.

  • Top of his wish list of harm reduction measures was the need to provide opioid substitute therapies at an optimal dosage for an appropriate duration. 

  • Second on the list was a call for naloxone, a drug that reverses an opioid overdose, to be made more widely available including over-the-counter.

  • Other measures included the provision of heroin-assisted treatment for those who are not benefiting from other kinds of opioid substitute treatment, and the introduction of drug consumption rooms (DCRs), particularly in areas where public injecting is prevalent. 

Alex was clear that while DCRs are likely to be helpful in reducing drug-related deaths and other harms, the priority for governments must be to improve access to appropriate kinds of effective treatment.  The loud applause at the end of his presentation was a strong indication that the audience shared Alex’s vision for the future.


Neil Woods closed the conference with a powerful reflection on his life as an undercover police officer working tirelessly, dangerously (and hopelessly) to destroy drug distribution networks in the UK. 

His call for an end to the War on Drugs provided an emotive end to an exciting day of discussion, debate and networking.


Wales is an exemplar for partnership working in the field of substance misuse and the Street Drugs Wales event has helped to strengthen and broaden those relationships by bringing like-minded people together. 

Feedback from conference delegates after the event was overwhelmingly positive. 

Talks are now underway to run a similar event in North Wales and to bring Street Drugs Wales back to Cardiff in 2020.  Watch this space!