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, PhD Andrew Tatarsky, PhD
Shaun Shelly Sheila Vakaria, Ph.D
Mat Southwell Dev Raheja
Rory Fleming Greg Denham
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 is an empathetic and culturally sensitive professional with international experience both in family advocacy and healthcare administration, with expertise in project management from concept to development.
In addition to co-founding Families for Sensible Drug Policy (FSDP), a global non-profit organization (inspired by lived experience and the personal loss of her two children, Bryan and Alex, to fentanyl-related overdose) Carol also co-founded The Center for Family Empowerment and Change to better serve the needs of families impacted by substance use and harmful drug policies.
As a mother and a healthcare professional, Carol is fully present to how the injustices and inequities in the healthcare system create barriers for our families advocating for the health and well-being of our loved ones. She believes that the same best practices and interventions accessible in every other complex health condition should be made available to individuals impacted by substance use.
Carol served 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 has interviewed countless families whose ardent stories bear testimony that calls for a paradigm shift, one that embraces comprehensive care and progressive solutions based on science, compassion, public health and human rights. She is excited to celebrate the recent milestone of her third son, Devin’s, college graduation with a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology and inspired to do her part to help make the world a better place for generations to come. Originally from NYC Carol is now at home in Verona, NJ with her faithful companion, Boomer.
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.
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.
Gillian Cox, Community Outreach Advocate
Gillian lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband and extraordinarily spoiled 11 lb. black cat. She currently is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor in Massachusetts, and she is lobbying for it to be easier for folks with out of state licenses to work as clinicians in North Carolina because the opiate problem is as big there as it is anywhere else in the country. She has been contacted by State Senator Jeff Jackson’s office, and hope to take this matter to the folks in Raleigh in the near future.
Gillian has been a proponent of harm reduction since the mid-1990s when she volunteered at New York City’s needle exchange on 5th Street and Avenue C. She realized then that clean needles save lives and money because they forestall the spread of both HIV and Hepatitis C. She believes that her time there was pivotal regarding her mindset about harm reduction, saying “if it saves or improves a life, or helps the community, it’s good in my book’.
Between 2006 and 2014, she worked as a case manager/counselor at Lahey Behavioral Health in Boston, Massachusetts, primarily with detoxing clients and referring them largely to 28-day programs. Some of those programs accepted clients on methadone or suboxone, but many did not. She’s noticed that, since the explosion of the opioid epidemic, many more of the residential programs in the Boston area have loosened their restrictions about methadone/suboxone clients; there is a recognition that MAT is part of the continuum of care.
Additionally, while working in the mental health sector between 2014 and 2015, she recognized the need for the improvement in the care provided to indigent clients. The group homes in which many reside are badly managed, and the way they are treated by providers brought her to tears some days.
Outside of addiction and mental health, Gillian enjoys reading about history and current events, running, spending time with my husband, parents, and friends, and spoiling the heck out of my cat.
Dee-Dee Stout, Guest Blogger
Dee-Dee is a longtime Bay Area resident and popular professor currently teaching a graduate course in Motivational Interviewing (MI) at Holy Names University in Oakland, CA. She has worked in the addictions/mental health worlds for more than 30 years and continues to maintain a busy clinical practice where she works with a variety of clients whose behavioral goals include abstinence, moderation, and “anything they want and in any way they want” to achieve their goals.
While in the past Dee-Dee has conducted more than 800 trainings throughout the country and internationally, these days she spends her time mainly in CA training and consulting with agencies, Counties, and individual practitioners on MI, harm reduction and trauma-informed work. But some of her most rewarding work is with families, helping them to improve communication with their loved ones who use drugs, regardless of their ultimate goals. She has been personally abstinent from alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs since 1988 and has worked in the addictions field ever since.
She is also a longtime advocate for change in treatment organizations and in public policy for addiction treatment as well as other psychiatric treatment. Dee-Dee has advocated to demand that organizations and clinicians utilize mainly person-centered, evidence-based practices and treat those seeking services with respect and compassion, not shame and 12-Step only as is the main current model. As a result of her efforts, Dee-Dee has received death threats and lost positions in treatment as well as academia.
Dee-Dee has made numerous appearances as an invited speaker at conferences – including internationally – and has been interviewed on television, radio, film, and print, discussing treatment issues and more. She has contributed to various best-selling books as well as scholarly papers on treatment, including trauma.
Dee-Dee has undergraduate degrees in Psychology & Human Sexuality from San Francisco State University (SFSU) and earned her Special Major Master’s degree in Health Counseling from SFSU. She is a member of the international Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT), having received her training in MI in part from the developer, William R. Miller, PhD.
As someone with a personal history through addiction and other psychiatric diagnoses – as well as having a long family history of both – Dee-Dee definitely brings a personal story to the conversation. She’s well known for her wicked sense of humor and her ability to make complicated evidence-based practices understandable.
Her book, “Coming to Harm Reduction Kicking and Screaming: Looking for Harm Reduction in a 12-Step World,” is widely available and has received positive reviews.
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.).
Andrew Tatarsky, PhD
Andrew Tatarsky has developed Integrative Harm Reduction Psychotherapy (IHRP) for treating the spectrum of risky and addictive behavior. IHRP brings psychoanalysis, CBT and mindfulness together in a harm reduction frame. The therapy has been described in his book, Harm Reduction Psychotherapy: A New Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Problems, and a series of papers. The book has been translated into Polish and Spanish.
Andrew holds a doctorate in clinical psychology from the City University of New York and is a graduate of New York University’s Postdoctoral Program in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. He is Founder and Director of the Center for Optimal Living in NYC, a treatment and training center; founding member and Past-President, Division on Addiction of New York State Psychological Association, and Member of the Medical and Clinical Advisory Boards of the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. Dr. Tatarsky trains nationally and internationally.
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.
Mat Southwell is a harm reduction specialist, drug user activist and global advocate on drugs and HIV. Mat was one of the UK’s first generation of harm reduction workers in the late 1980s. He founded the pioneering Healthy Options Team (HOT) in 1991 before going onto be professional head of service and general manager of East London and City Drug Services. In 1999 he came out publicly as a drug user on a TV documentary as part of challenging a shift in UK drug policy away from harm reduction and towards greater criminalization. Mat has a special interest in developing responses to new drug trends and emerging risk behaviors.
Mat was involved in pioneering responses to safer injecting, the arrival of crack cocaine in the UK, and the emergence of bladder and dependency syndromes among people using ketamine. Mat is a member of the Coact Cooperative which is a peer led technical support agency specializing in community mobilization with people who use drugs and the meaningful participation of drug users in harm reduction and drug treatment services. He also works as a global advocate on drugs and HIV. He is an Associate Consultant for the International Drug Policy Consortium supporting the Secretariat of the Drugs Civil Society Group, which is the civil society partnership mechanism between 25 drugs/HIV civil society regional and global networks and United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) Global HIV Program.
Mat is also part-time Project Manager for the European Network of People who Use Drugs (EuroNPUD) which unites drug user groups from around the European Union in mobilizing, campaigning and advocating for the heath and rights of people who use drugs.
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
Rory Fleming is a Minnesota attorney, journalist, and drug policy reform advocate. Rory has been on the front lines of pushing for more humane law enforcement approaches to the opioid epidemic, both as a legal fellow at Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project and through his consulting firm, Foglight Strategies.
His writings on prosecutor-driven criminal justice reform and the war on drugs can be found at Filter Magazine, Slate, and The Crime Report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He is on Twitter at @RoryFleming8A.
Greg Denham has been actively involved in drug policy reform for over 25 years. A former police officer, Greg has extensive international experience in harm reduction and is a strong advocate for evidence-informed policies and practice.
Currently the Executive Officer (EO) for the Yarra Drug and Health Forum in Melbourne, Australia, as the EO Greg has campaigned for the Supervised Injecting Facility in North Richmond, Naloxone distribution, needle and syringe dispensing machines, pill testing and Heroin Assisted Treatment. Greg has also worked with law enforcement in Africa, South East Asia and China advocating for the introduction of policies and practices that reduce drug harms, such as HIV, through needle exchange, methadone and condom programs.
Greg is also the Australian representative for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a board member of Harm Reduction Australia and is part of a consortium that runs AOD Media Watch that regularly monitors and highlights media reporting that uses stigmatizing, discriminatory, and exploitative reporting material.
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).
Diane Ostrem Taylor
My background is in healthcare administration and having two children that have struggled on and off for fifteen years with substance use, I have a strong desire to bring harm reduction to our families nationwide.
Because I have used Narcan to save both of my kids I feel it brings a great peace of mind to family members knowing they are prepared. Many years ago I was introduced to Dan Biggs and the amazing team of volunteers at Chicago Recovery Alliance (CRA). This was before naloxone was even legal for a layperson but they inspired me to push forward and help other families. I am one of many individuals who CRA has in place in Illinois to distribute naloxone and train families how to use it. I started out in family support groups providing them with as many resources as I could find to help them obtain naloxone.
2017 was a year of personal change and growth for me as I shifted my focus to starting a nationwide page to help people locate the nearest harm reduction groups and free Narcan trainings to their locations.
As the page grows I have met some amazing people who now provide me with resources to share every day. I found FSDP and read the posts for a long time and realized that the mission of the group to support the family is exactly what I was looking for. I am challenged there on a daily basis to learn and grow. I have so much respect and admiration for everyone in the FSDP family.
Susan Lennon, Social Media Moderator
Susan Lennon lives in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, with her rescue Lab Nanette. She started her career in 1981 as a counselor at an inpatient alcohol detox in Hartford, when abstinence-only was considered the sole route to recovery. While pursuing her Master’s in Social Work, she also conducted court-mandated groups for people arrested for DUI, and interned at the United Technologies Employee Assistance Program. After becoming licensed, Susan moved into what was then known as “psych,” and provided direct care at Mt. Sinai’s Child and Adolescent inpatient unit, and the Institute of Living’s Adult Day Treatment Center. She was trained on the on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) III.
Much has changed since then, but not enough. She left direct clinical practice in 1987, soul-sick at the lack of family intervention and “medical model” of regressing and medicating patients to the degree that they had few to zero internal/external resources to work with once they were discharged — after stays often lasting for years. Ask her some time about the work she then did with a national health insurer, advocating for patients who were inappropriately hospitalized, and what mental health treatment was like in those days …
Over the next couple of decades, Susan’s work alternated between freelance writing, consulting and working in prevention marketing at various health care organizations, while always renewing her social work license and staying current on clinical issues. But nothing prepared her for the shock of her nephew’s descent into the hell of heroin addiction and ultimate death. Her appreciation of FSDP and its mission and people is acutely related to and inspired by Michael Lennon, her godson and only child. #Forever27, 6/14/88 – 11/3/15.