Families for Sensible Drug Policy (FSDP) is a global coalition of families, professionals, and organizations representing the voice of the family impacted by substance use and the harms of existing drug policies. We empower families by educating and advocating for a new paradigm of comprehensive care and progressive solutions for family support based on science, compassion, public health and human rights.
We are committed to regaining control of our families’ health by collaborating with our stakeholders to advance comprehensive public health approaches, best healthcare practices, reality-based education and family-friendly drug policy reform.
Founded by families and friends of substance users, FSDP is committed to regaining control of our families’ health by collaborating with our stakeholders to engage in the following projects:
Bring Reality-Based Education to Schools
Parents and family members of substance users will be trained via in-person educational and experiential workshops and interactive website resources to introduce reality-based education to schools in their home communities.
Convene an annual seminar for stakeholders to: 1) share the latest research on drug policy and addiction treatment issues; 2) review national and local advocacy efforts and issues; and 3) develop coalition- and movement-building of the organization.
Family members of loved ones with substance use problems will learn about the causes and signs of opiate overdose and be trained via in-person workshops in protocols to provide life-saving emergency rescue procedures for people who are overdosing from opiates.
“At the heart of the Progressive movement for drug policy and drug treatment reform is a central belief that we must move from punishment to healing. Families for a Sensible Drug Policy are vital to this project as they constantly bear witness to the fact that these are our children and that the voices and concerns of parents must be at the heart of all of our visions for change. I am grateful for who they are and what they do.”
Board of Directors
Barry Lessin, President
Carol Beyer, Vice President
Irene Smith, Secretary-Treasurer
Tom Horvath, Ph.D.
Sheila Vakaria, Ph.D
Barry Lessin, President, Co-Founder
Barry Lessin is a harm reduction psychologist and public health advocate with a career spanning 40 years as a clinician, administrator, educator, and researcher.
He has a private practice with offices in Philadelphia and the suburbs, working with teenagers, young adults and their families struggling with substance use disorder and related mental health issues.
In addition to his clinical work, Barry’s passion is advocating for drug policy reform, reality-based education programs and effective and accessible treatment for substance use disorder.
Carol Beyer, Vice President, Co-Founder
Carol’s passion to strive for excellence, integrity and sensibility in drug policy and addiction and mental health services, is showcased through her work in community outreach and patient engagement. As a healthcare/marketing consultant, her entrepreneurial spirit has flourished in a plethora of environments, including her family’s residential healthcare and medical transportation business. She holds a certification from The Ritz-Carlton Hotel in leadership empowerment and delivering an exemplary guest experience. Carol has traveled far and wide, training at mastermind boot camp seminars, and brings person-centered, compassionate and sensible communication strategies to the table.
She enjoys supporting physicians and their teams, by creating a welcoming and productive environment that centers on personalized service, and exceeding the expectations of the patient. As a committed servant and family member dedicated to advancing the mission of individuals impacted by substance use, Carol Co-Founded Families for Sensible Drug Policy to better serve the needs of the community.
Carol sits on the board of her local Drug Awareness Committee, which recently received an honorary recognition from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) as a model for how communities can mobilize their efforts in raising awareness and prevention. She looks forward to continuing the journey with her esteemed colleagues and friends around the world while sharing the message of hope and healing. Carol wishes to acknowledge the growing number of families and team members whose ongoing participation and unwavering spirit make the promotion of FSDP projects and events committed to bringing our communities together a reality.
She loves animals, is an admitted Scrabble nerd, and her commitment to self-care through meditation, yoga, exercise and rock and roll, is what keeps her motivated to stay the course!
Beth Herman, Harm Reduction Nurse Advocate
Beth Herman, RN MPA, has been a Harm Reduction advocate since 1999. She is an experienced psychiatric and school (college) nurse, has worked at the Harm Reduction Coalition in New York City, AIDS Services in Austin TX, and has been a consultant to the AIDS Day Treatment facilities in New York.
She is passionate about harm reduction and as Harm Reduction Nurse Advocate with FSDP, she will be educating healthcare providers across the entire continuum of healthcare service provision about harm reduction approaches.
Her passion for harm reduction is contributing to her hope to start her own non-profit organization dedicated to bringing harm reduction services to her community in the San Diego CA area.
Jeremy Galloway, Harm Reduction Coordinator
Jeremy became involved with harm reduction and overdose prevention after losing a dear friend to overdose. He’s a founding member of Georgia Overdose Prevention, the driving force behind Georgia’s 911 medical amnesty and naloxone access laws. Rescue kits distributed by Georgia Overdose Prevention and Atlanta Harm Reduction have saved hundreds of lives.
He works with communities across the South on similar laws and trains at-risk people, family members, and treatment providers overdose prevention and harm reduction skills. Jeremy recently co-founded Southeast Harm Reduction Project (SHARP), an organization that connects substance users, sex workers, and formerly incarcerated people with resources in their communities, fills in gaps where services don’t exist, and develops educational videos.
Having lived with substance use and mental health disorders for much of his life, Jeremy is focused on reducing the stigma faced by people living with these conditions and ensuring directly-impacted people have a voice in policy decisions which affect them. He is a medication-assisted treatment patient and advocate for patient rights, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders, and sensible, compassionate drug policy reform that considers the role family and other vital relationships play in helping people heal.
Jeremy is a SMART Recovery meeting facilitator and state-certified peer recovery specialist. He speaks across the Southeast and his written work have been featured in The Fix, The Influence, Huffington Post, Alternet, and RawStory.
Being part of global organization like FSDP has opened opportunities to not only educate others, but to listen to people’s lived experiences and take their unique stories back into his own communities.
Josephine Cannella-Krehl, Cannabis Advocate and Educator
A graduate of S.U.N.Y. Stony Brook in N.Y. with a B.S. in Psychology in 1988 and of Florida State University with a Master of Social Work Degree in 1990, Josephine began her career working as an outpatient counselor with children, adolescents and adults negatively impacted by substance misuse. She obtained Florida Licensure and became an L.C.S.W. in 1994. She has worked with a variety of patient populations, most notably with terminally ill patients and as a bereavement therapist, specializing in providing services to very young children.
When her father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, she became interested in the field of Cannabis Therapeutics. With a focus on creating a “safe” space for patients to share their challenges and concerns, some of them began disclosing that they were already using cannabis for symptom relief illegally. As she began to realize that patients were having to become “criminals” in order to access a plant that was providing them relief at their most vulnerable time, she felt a call to action.
She is passionate about Social Justice Issues. She has been a pro-cannabis Guest Speaker at the Florida State University Center for Leadership and Social Change, she is a patient advocate providing patient education and coordination of care services, offers counsel to distressed patients in Florida who have experienced negative legal ramifications as well as adverse interactions with Child Protective Services as a result of using cannabis for symptom control “illegally”. She testifies before Legislative Committees and provides education/information/resources to Senate and House Members, Legislative Aids and Staff, as well as to her local Community
Dale C. Schafer, Legal Advocate and Sentencing Reform Specialist
Dale Schafer is a proud father of 5, grandfather of 6, Papa to many, attorney of more than 30 years, Veteran of the Vietnam War, educator and a recently released convicted federal drug felon.
Dale was a Navy Hospital Corpsman, during the Viet Nam war, received his BA in Social Sciences, with an emphasis in history, from California State University Sacramento and attended law school at the University of Northern California School of law.
After law school he practiced medical malpractice defense, in San Diego California, and then workers compensation defense, in the California foothills town of Cool.
In 1997, his then physician wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. After four rounds of chemo, wherein she used medical cannabis to survive, they, as an attorney/physician team, began to recommend medical cannabis under California’s new Compassionate Use Act. Shortly thereafter they were targeted by the DEA, prosecuted for manufacturing cannabis (based upon his efforts to grow cannabis for his wife and several other very sick people) and ultimately both were sentenced to a 60 month minimum mandatory sentence in federal prison. Having just been released, in September of 2015, Dale is ready to use his 30+ years of legal practice along with his experience of processing through the federal prison system to educate about the harmful effects of the current drug laws on the nuclear family unit, the need for cannabis legalization and the necessity for an entire overhaul of the U.S. prison systems as well as the requirement of affording veterans the care they need.
Mark Pinto, Veteran Affairs Coordinator
Mark Pinto is a retired Marine helicopter pilot, Gulf War veteran, and a former Buddhist priest. In May 2014, he went on to receive his Masters of Fine Arts in Photography from San Jose State University.
Mark’s advocacy for veterans rights includes art that serves to inform people of the extended costs of war. “Joes Come Home” is just one example of his work, utilizing GI Joe dolls in scenarios depicting the struggles of veterans as they reintegrate into society. His more recent works deal with Moral Injury and the struggles of veterans to receive effective treatments at the VA. In another example, Mark created a show titled “22 Joes Everyday”, an interactive art piece where the community participated in hanging 22 toy soldiers each day of the show, to symbolize the complicity of society in the tragedy of 22 veteran suicides that take place every day. You can see Mark’s work here.
Mark resides in Portland, Oregon, where he continues to create art and advocates for veterans and against senseless wars.
Julie Apperson, Correctional Health Reform Advocate
Julie has practiced as a Registered Nurse for 24 years, spending the last 11 years in public health. This work and her personal experiences as a mother have provided her with a nontraditional perspective of people who use drugs and a rich appreciation for the damage that social consequences cause.
Her family’s own journey offered an intimate view of a much fractured aspect of healthcare, thus fueling her passion to return to school to pursue a career as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. She will graduate in December 2016 from University of Rochester and aspires to specialize in addiction medicine. She has been the Director of Chautauqua County’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Program since 2014.
One of her most rewarding accomplishments during this time has been the implementation of a naloxone training program for incarcerated individuals. She has been active in community treatment reform activities and feels passionate about the needed transformation of in-custody experience of incarcerated individuals.
Jennifer Miller, Harm Reduction Clinical Advocate
Jennifer Miller, LPC-MHSP, is a licensed professional counselor who has worked in various settings including outpatient therapy, crisis intervention, inpatient psychiatric care, community prevention and education. Much of her professional experience has revolved around counseling people with issues related to problematic substance use
While working in the field of community mental health, Jennifer became increasingly aware of the ineffectiveness of the rigid abstinence-only model of treatment that was the norm. When her college-age son’s drug use became problematic, she saw the damage done from a new perspective. As the family attempted to navigate this system, her eyes were opened to how very broken that it is. A non-violent misdemeanor charge led to years of probation, failed drug tests resulting in periods of incarceration, and very little effective support. Jennifer’s philosophy around substance use evolved from the abstinence only theories that she was taught in graduate school and that are routinely practiced in the mental health field into a firmly held belief in the principles of harm reduction. She has become a strong advocate for harm reduction practices, criminal justice reform, and for an individual’s right to choose his or her own path.
Jennifer is currently working in a private practice setting. She works with a diverse population ranging from early childhood age to senior adults, but her chief passion is directed towards those who are struggling with substance use. She enthusiastically believes that health and recovery are possible when people are empowered to set their own goals and to build on their strengths in partnership with professional and compassionate clinical care.
Together with her son Matt, who chose to stop using IV opioids in 2015, Jennifer has taken the message of harm reduction and hope to others through media, community involvement, presentations to civic and faith-based groups, and advocacy work. Matt’s recent diagnosis of Hepatitis C infection has strengthened her resolve to advocate for more progressive harm reduction policies such as needle exchange. Jennifer sits on the board of a nonprofit support group for families which was started by a friend who lost her son to overdose. One of the main initiatives of the group is overdose education and Naloxone training.
Jennifer has been an active member of FSDP since its beginning as a Facebook group in February 2015.
Jennifer owns Millerhause Rottweilers in East Tennessee and delights in raising, breeding, and showing top quality dogs. She also enjoys music, art, photography, outdoor life and spending time with family.
Beth Chilman, Development Specialist
Beth is a graduate of Philadelphia University with a B.S. in Management Information Systems. Married for 32 years, she and her husband Scott have three children. Scott’s 20-year service as a U.S. Naval Officer moved their family throughout the country until the mid-1990s when they returned home to Philadelphia.
Her fervor for books and love of children led Beth to a position as a library administrator at a local grade school where she shared her passion for reading and learning with the students. Unfortunately, the debilitating effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) forced her to retire.
Relying on various medications to battle RA and manage related pain, Beth became concerned about policies moving towards prohibition of prescription opioids. After becoming a member of FSDP, she gained an even deeper understanding and concern for appropriate care and harm reduction for those with substance use disorder. In hopes of assisting and furthering the endeavors of FSDP, she recently completed certification in grant proposal writing from the University of Notre Dame and will be assisting FSDP in the grant writing process as well as social media coordination.
Janet Goree, Community Outreach Advocate
Janet Goree first became aware of the brokenness of the criminal justice system in 1993 when the man who shook her six-week-old granddaughter Kimberlin, resulting in her death, received probation as a sentence.
She channeled her grief and pain into advocacy, training thousands of professionals and parents on the dangers of shaking a baby, culminating in the passage of The Kimberlin West Act, requiring Shaken Baby Syndrome education at the time of birth. She also supported other family members affected by this tragedy in her role of Director of Family Support for The Shaken Baby Alliance. She served on Florida’s’ Commission for Responsible Fatherhood as well as Florida’s Child Abuse Death Review Team.
In 2008, her advocacy focus shifted to failures of the criminal justice system for substance users when her youngest child Bobby was sentenced to a thirty-year mandatory minimum for a crime he committed while being improperly withdrawn from methadone at the hands of a professional. No one was even physically injured.
Her passions include animal rescue, harm reduction, criminal justice reform, child abuse prevention and her family.
Sheila Wren Hand, Community Outreach Advocate
Sheila became interested in harm reduction and advocacy as a result of losing her daughter Elizabeth in 2014 to endocarditis – an infection of the heart that people who inject drugs can acquire. Elizabeth was an active user of many substances for more than 13 years before her death at age 29. She believes Elizabeth’s substance use began as self-medication for childhood trauma, social anxiety, and bipolar disorder and that Elizabeth could have benefited from harm reduction and a non-abstinence based approach. She is currently writing Elizabeth’s story (using her poems, journals, and letters).
Also, Sheila also believes that most of the harms that her daughter and other drug users suffer are a direct result of drug prohibition. She advocates for families to be involved in treatment and that everyone should be made aware of the various treatment options that are out there. In addition to a BA in psychology Sheila is a New York State Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor-Trainee .
Sheila has experienced Ketamine infusion treatment for bipolar depression and thinks alternatives to traditional treatment for both problematic substance use and mental illness should be made more available.
Besides being a Community Outreach Coordinator for FSDP, she is active in several other groups. Sheila grew up in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area and currently lives in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State.
Jessie Gronachan, Community Outreach Advocate
Jessie Gronachan’s passion is being an advocate for harm reduction with special attention paid to the reproductive rights of mothers on medicated-assisted treatment (MAT).
Jessie is a mother of two girls, both of whom were born while Jessie was on MAT. When her first daughter, Olivia, was born with nothing in her system except Jessie’s legal prescription of buprenorphine, the hospital was “obligated” by existing laws to call Child Protective Services (CPS). As a result, Olivia was taken away from Jessie at only four days old and given to her fiancé’s parents who lived 2.5 hours away in Syracuse, NY.
Jessie and her fiance’ refused to be without their baby girl and moved to Syracuse where Olivia was eventually legally returned to their custody.
Because of her experience with CPS, Jessie is now an avid advocate for mothers who may not be familiar with navigating these types of situations. She has done community outreach advocacy work in Syracuse educating women and families about these essential reproductive rights. Jessie believes there is absolutely no reason why families should be broken up when the mother is getting help to be the best mother she can be.
Jessie is currently pursuing a degree in social work to be able to mentor women in a therapeutic setting.
Hazel Heal, Hepatitis C Awareness and Treatment Advocate
Hazel is a mature law student from Dunedin, New Zealand, completing her final year at Otago University and has a passion for human rights everywhere. She lived with Hep C for over 30 years, and arrived at the point of treat, transplant or die in 2015. Treatments had been available for some time but were not funded. Needing $250,000 for the right treatment, she learned of the generic buyers’ club FixhepC, joined, and was cured- now among the many thousands who have done so as part of an ongoing global clinical trial. Cures are life-changing for people like Hazel who have lived decades under the multiple effects of chronic illness and stigma.
Her experience sparked a civic duty to let others know of their legal and medical options, through media and lobbying. Hazel is on a policy committee for Hep C treatment delivery in New Zealand and has featured in an international documentary made by the World Hepatitis Alliance. She has reached, informed and supported many people all over the world to access affordable cures and works to break down barriers to testing, treatment and advice.
One in three incarcerated people have Hep C. Hazel looks forward to working with FSDP on solutions for testing and treating incarcerated people and providing Hep C resources on prevention and treatment for all members. Someone still dies every minute from Hep C needlessly. Working on Hep C means saving lives and Hazel seeks to turn the tide.
Our Advisory Board Members
Dr. Tom Horvath
Dr. Tom Horvath, founder of Practical Recovery, is an internationally recognized expert on addiction treatment. He has been president of SMART Recovery for 18 of its 20 years. With over 1300 meetings worldwide, SMART Recovery is the largest of the non-12-step mutual help groups. He is a past president (1990-91) of the Society of Addiction Psychology (Division 50 of the American Psychological Association), the world’s largest organization of addiction psychologists. He is the author of Sex, Drugs, Gambling & Chocolate: A Workbook for Overcoming Addictions (2nd ed.).
Shaun Shelly is dedicated to the understanding of addiction and drug use and the development of effective public policy. He has studied addiction at the University of Stellenbosch where he graduated cum laude and is currently in the Addictions Division of the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at UCT, where he is an MPhil Candidate in Addictions Mental Health. Shaun also established South Africa’s first non-abstinence focused community based program for drug users in Cape Town. He is currently the advocacy and psychosocial coordinator for TB/HIV Care Association’s Step Up project which provides a package of peer-delivered HIV prevention and risk-reduction services to people who inject drugs. Shaun is a member of the Street People’s forum and is an expert adviser to the Harm reduction, Abstinence and Moderation Support network (HAMS) and Families for Sensible Drug Policy in the United States. Shaun also conceptualized and organized South Africa’s first national drug policy week in February of 2016. His current research is on the experiences of heroin users accessing opioid substitution therapy in Cape Town. Shaun also spent more than a decade doing embedded ethnographic research on drug use and the informal economy in Cape Town South Africa.
Dev Raheja an internationally recognized consultant and educator with expertise in risk management, quality, safety, and reliability in healthcare, medical devices, automotive, and aerospace fields. With over 25 years of experience as consultant, he is the author of the books Safer Hospital Care: Strategies for Continuous Innovation, and Assurance Technologies principles and Practices.”
“He is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives and the American Society for Patient Safety Professionals, is certified in Six Sigma tool and in Healthcare Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (HFMEA) by the Maryland Hospital Association. He earned the diploma in “Perfecting Patient Care” from the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative. Their method is used in over 100 hospitals. He serves on the Patient and Families Advocacy Council of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and participated on their Quality and Safety Research Group meetings for two years.
Dr. Sheila P. Vakharia
Dr. Sheila P. Vakharia is a Policy Manager at the Office of Academic Engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance and an Assistant Professor of Social Work at LIU Brooklyn. Her research and teaching interests include harm reduction therapy, drug policy reform, drug user stigma, overdose and overdose prevention, and social work education.
Sheila is on the Board of HAMS Harm Reduction Network and is a member of the Harm Reduction Therapy Research Group. Dr. Vakharia earned her doctorate at Florida International University’s School of Social Work. She received her Master’s in Social Work from Binghamton University and a Post-Master’s Certificate in the Addictions from New York University
Social Media Administrators
Lynda loved college so much that she went all in for a double major at Rutgers University, New Jersey – a B.S. in Human Nutrition and a B.S. in Food Service Management, all while balancing married life, a new “fixer-upper” home and three very young children. During the next 7 years, she served on every board position at her children’s cooperative nursery school and gained valuable experience in grant-writing, fundraising and public speaking. Lynda was published in the Journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children during her studies and tenures with the cooperative. Her collaboration with FSDP was born out of a close family member’s struggle with SUD and a system of treatments and policies that failed to help him. Lynda is an unapologetic Harm Reduction advocate, and envisions a world in which people are met where they’re at and provided with individualized help and treatment that work for them. When she is not busy greeting new FSDP members, participating in lively group dialogues, and researching politics and policy, Lynda likes to spend her time watercolor painting and engaging in the age-old, dying craft of hand piecing and quilting.
Irene has extensive and varied experience in the legal and medical fields. She was legal assistant and legal secretary in civil litigation defense firms defending doctors and hospitals in wrongful death and medical malpractice matters, as well as managing infectious disease and orthopaedic medical practices and dental offices.
Her personal experience with family members’ substance use disorder has motivated her to become an advocate by participating in a number of drug policy reform grassroots organizations in her community. She has always been concerned with social injustices and those forgotten or mistreated by society, and is a writer of social commentary poetry and short stories and is enjoying life by the ocean with her granddaughter.
Mary Kay Villaverde
Mary Kay has had a long career in Public Relations after receiving a BA in Communications from The University of Dayton, working extensively in the hospitality, hotel sales and marketing businesses. While raising a family, Mary Kay put her sales skills to use in fundraising for non-profit organizations, including a drug treatment facility in Central Florida. In 2003, Mary Kay returned to college and received a Masters degree in Gerontology. Her experience in fundraising and community relations has included substance using as well as aging populations.
She and her husband, Alan, retired to Connecticut in 2013. She has 2 daughters, a granddaughter and is actively involved in Families for Sensible Drug Policy and a member of Drug Policy Alliance and MAPS.
Mary Kay’s contribution and dedication to this organization are done in memory of Alan Jr. (August 25, 1976- January 29, 2001).