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Background and Aims

The ESSD was founded in 1990 as an association of European social scientists working on drug issues. Its principal aim is to promote social science approaches (especially qualitative research) to drug research, with special reference to the situation in Europe. The society holds annual conferences and publishes an annual book with chapters by ESSD members (although in 2017, instead of a book, there will be a special issue of the journal Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, with papers by ESSD members).

Before the ESSD was established, research on drug issues in most European countries had long been dominated by the medical and therapeutic professions. Social science and qualitative research was hardly represented in the study of the aetiology and epidemiology of drug use, nor in research on social response and social control. The establishment of ESSD was a response to a keenly felt need for closer co-operation within the social science community.

Such co-operation had to be international. In most European countries, the number of social scientists working in the field of drugs was (and, in some countries, still is) too small to form a national scholarly community. The closest colleague working on the same topic may be in another country. Moreover, although all countries share the drug phenomenon, there is often a lack of awareness of the commonalties and differences between them in terms of the characteristics of drug use or the types of policy responses. By viewing similarities and dissimilarities in a cross-national perspective, the existing variations in the drug phenomenon and their sociocultural determinants can be better understood.

In 1988, given the desire to establish a network of social scientists working on drug issues, extensive efforts were made to locate drug researchers in European countries and to bring them together to exchange research findings and explore possibilities for future co-operation. The efforts were greeted with great enthusiasm, and the first annual conference was held in Cologne in Germany in 1990. It was organised by Karl-Heinz Reuband, who without doubt can be called the founding father of the ESSD. He was also chosen by the participants at the first conference as the chair of the organisation. At the 1996 conference, Karl-Heinz Reuband resigned as chair and proposed that Dirk J. Korf replace him. The conference participants then elected Prof. Korf.

It was agreed at a members’ meeting at the 2015 conference that it was time to place some of the aspects of the organisation and running of the ESSD onto a more formal footing. An interim board to act as a working group to progress these changes was set up in November 2015 and prepared the ESSD Societal Code, which includes:


The object of the ESSD is to promote social science approaches to drug research through supporting research and the publication and dissemination of the useful results thereof.

The guiding principles of the ESSD include:
  • A European focus on its activities and the research it supports (but not to the exclusion of non-European members and contributions).
  • Particular support for qualitative and novel research methods (but not to the exclusion of quantitative and other approaches).
  • Support and nurturing of early career researchers (including research students).
  • Informality, transparency, inclusiveness and goodwill in the operation of the society and its activities.
  • No fees for membership of the society nor attendance at the annual conference.

    To fulfill this object, the society will engage in the following activities:
  • Organise an annual conference for the presentation of research papers and discussion of scientific issues in qualitative-oriented drug research.
  • Serve as a forum for social scientists working on drug issues to explore possibilities for future cooperation, collaboration and international comparative drug research.
  • Support and encourage early career drug researchers.
  • Engage in additional activities approved by the ESSD Board with the consent of the membership.

  • For further details, see the ESSD Societal Code.

    The Pompidou Group

    The ESSD gratefully thanks the Pompidou Group (PG) of the Council of Europe for supporting the ESSD from 2007-2018 by:
    - A payment towards the cost of editing and publishing the annual book.
    - Funding some travel and accommodation costs for ESSD publication meetings.
    - Informing the PG network of experts of the work done by ESSD by distribution of the annual publication.
    - Occasionally providing funding for the administration of the annual conference.
    - Past funding of two summer schools on qualitative research on drugs, each for 12 European PhD students.