FSDP to Address Aspiring Medical Professionals in Philadelphia, PA

14731154_10154153120499195_2687285408442853763_n - Version 2Families for Sensible Drug Policy (FSDP) Co-Founder Barry Lessin and FSDP members Brooke Feldman and Kenneth Anderson will be on a panel to discuss “The Culture and Misperceptions of Addiction” with medical students at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine on Thursday, January 5, 2017, 5:30 to 7:30pm this Thursday.   This is an amazing opportunity to reach healthcare providers at the beginning of their careers with a message about harm reduction and compassionate, evidence-based care for substance use problems.  

Said Barry, “I spent most of my career as an abstinence-only, one-size-fits-all psychologist until I became aware of the War on Drugs five years ago and began viewing drug use and people who use them through a human rights and public health lens. I realize now that using this model was doing more harm than good by reinforcing stigma and shame by blaming my clients for the lack of success in treatment. I now embrace a harm reduction, client-centric approach and feel it’s important to share my harm reduction knowledge and experience with people who will have an important impact in providing care.”

Brooke Feldman, an outspoken recovery advocate and Huffington Post columnist [link], as well as FSDP member, said, “It is imperative that all medical professionals understand substance use and its related impact on whole health and wellness.  Only through truly understanding the delicate interplay between mental and physical health, including alcohol and other drug use, medical professionals can be best positioned to practice the holistic, integrated care that is the future of quality healthcare in this country.”

Kenneth Anderson, Executive Director and Founder of Harm Reduction, Abstinence and Moderation Support (HAMS) and long time FSDP member, broke down the myths and facts he plans to address at the session:

Myths and facts about substance use disorders

Myth: Everyone with an addiction dies from it unless they get addiction treatment.

Fact: 90% of people with alcohol dependence recover whether they get treatment or not. For drug dependence the rates are even higher; 98-99%.

Myth: Lifetime abstinence from all mood altering substances except caffeine and nicotine is necessary for recovery from addiction. 

Fact: Half of all people with alcohol dependence recover via controlled drinking. Marijuana is frequently an exit drug from more harmful substances.

Myth: Addiction treatment is effective.

Fact: Most treatment centers do not use evidence based treatment even if they claim to do so for the sake of collecting insurance payments. The odds of dying of heroin overdose after graduating from a 28 day inpatient program are 3,000% higher than if one continues to use heroin with no treatment.

Myth: Patients must be confronted and forced against their will into AA because they are in denial and only the 12 step program is effective.

Fact: The more people are confronted the more they will drink. Actually listening to what the client wants is the most effective approach here as it is everywhere else. Although some people benefit from the AA fellowship, others, including myself, are greatly harmed by it. I nearly drank myself to death before I left AA.

FSDP continues to be the voice of families affected by the cruel and ineffective drug war, everywhere from the meetings where policy is made to the institutions where new healthcare professionals are trained.  Stay tuned for an update after the event!  

 

FSDP at the Southern Opioid Epidemic Symposium

FSDP’s Co-Founders Barry Lessin and Carol Katz Beyer, and our Harm Reduction Coordinator Jeremy Galloway represented us at the Southern Opioid Epidemic Symposium held at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health this past week.

The symposium convened academic, medical, research, policy, and government stakeholders to identify and develop strategies to advance a comprehensive response to the opioid epidemic in the South and beyond.

Barry Lessin was invited to speak, and here’s the text of of his talk “The Significance of the Family in Developing Harm Reduction Strategies and Practices in the Southeast and Beyond:

15541250_1393299694023257_4760824146094682188_n“I’m an aging hippie from the VietNam war protest days when I came of age, during the drugs, sex, and rock and roll era and as a result developed an ingrained distrust of the federal government.

When FSDP was invited to join the Southern Collaborative on Opioid Harm Reduction , my initial thought was ‘Oh my God, I’m going to meet with the government to talk about drug use. I hope they don’t ask me too many questions about my past’. My worry and disbelief quickly dissolved when we got to the meeting and saw how serious the government is about attacking the opioid problem with comprehensive harm reduction …

We’re again a very divided nation, even more so in some ways, but I have optimism because of our ability to convene forums like this to tap into the brilliant minds gathered here to identify life-saving solutions to this public health epidemic.

So being here is an exciting and encouraging moment for myself, co-founder Carol Beyer, Jeremy Galloway and the 1000s of families and diverse stakeholders we represent because it’s an opportunity to be a part of process of an ongoing collaboration with this esteemed community to address the needs of the millions of families who have suffered the direct consequences and collateral damage of substance use and the existing harmful drug policies.

FSDP is a global coalition of families, professionals, organizations and drug policy reform advocates who view substance use through a human rights and public health lens. Viewed this way, Harm reduction interventions, are a natural fit for managing substance use, but have rarely found their way into family settings.

We have listened to our families, parents and users alike, sharing their lived experiences of being harmed by a broken treatment system that uses ineffective, often unregulated treatment methods, that treat people more like commodities to fill beds than patients being provided effective care.

When people relapse with other complex problems similar to addiction that require lifestyle changes like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, we don’t blame the person for treatment failures, we don’t tell them they’re in denial, or they ‘need to ready’ or they must ‘hit bottom, we don’t throw them in jail, or kick them out of schools.

With other conditions, we respond with scientific, commonsense, and compassionate approaches and we look at the treatment methods that are failing them and do more research to provide better treatments.

Families are in a unique position to directly influence the development or resolution of substance use problems because substance use doesn’t take place in a vacuum but in the normal context of family life and relationships as well as the wider culture that the family resides in.

We know that problematic substance use is a complex interaction of psychological, biological and socio-cultural variables. Prohibition-based drug policies directly contribute to a cultural narrative that views the substance as the primary problem, ignoring the uniqueness of each family, the culture it exists in, as well as the family’s strengths and resources.

We don’t have to reinvent the wheel–harm reduction approaches are already in place for other conditions. We can use this knowledge to extend these benefits to implement family-friendly strategies and practices in combatting the opioid problem.

FSDP bring diverse communities together to embrace enlightened drug policies—empowering families, restoring health, saving lives. We are dedicated to identify a vision and approach that will provide solutions and pathways forward…

Our meeting here offers us an opportunity for us to engage with the communities brought together here who share the public health lens of substance use, to be catalysts for change by tapping into your knowledge as scientists, educators, and healthcare providers to eventually develop the necessary strategies and practices and the hands-on tools to offer our families to restore our health to the level we deserve.”

Families for Sensible Drug Policy (FSDP) Team Reflects on the 11th National Harm Reduction Conference

IMG_2911In early November, Team FSDP went to San Diego to represent the voice of families affected  by the Drug War at the 11th National Harm Reduction Conference. The conference is a gathering of over 1,200 activists, treatment professionals and policy makers working to reduce the harms of substance use. We gave poster presentations, spoke on panels, and staffed a very busy table in the Exhibition Hall.

It seemed like everywhere we went, people sought us out for our perspective on the latest in policy, treatment, and activism. It was clear to me that we are respected as the organization that represents families fighting for change.

Some reflections from our team:

“My life was enriched by attending the HRC conference. I encountered so many dedicated professionals in the field. The movement has grown since I got involved with the organization to a level that will make harm reduction standard for drug treatment.” – Beth Herman, FSDP Nurse Advocate

“My experience at the HR Conference gave me great hope that intelligent, hard working and insightful people are working to bring science, empathy, compassion and proven results to the Harm Reduction movements. After my experience in prison, I was not hopeful that there were efforts at work to lessen the harms caused by incarceration on people that use substances. After meeting people like FSDP’s Corrections Health Advocate Julie Apperson I now can see that there are many intelligent hard working people, both inside and outside the system, trying to lessen the harms of incarceration.” – Dale Schafer, FSDP Legal Advocate and Sentencing Reform Specialist

“The HRC conference was an affirmation for me that a society grappling with complex challenges can still find compassion, innovation and humanity under one roof.”– Carol Katz Beyer, FSDP Co-founder and Vice President

“Being at the HR conference is like a homecoming for me. It’s where I got a new lease on my professional career as a harm reduction psychologist and where I can re-connect with a supportive community and learn about the latest developments in the public health and harm reduction world.” – Barry Lessin, FSDP Co-founder and President

I personally found it to be a life-changing event. I’ve never felt so surrounded by unconditional love, and so united in purpose with hundreds of people I’ve never met. I wrote more about the opening panel here.

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In the day to day struggles we all face as we try to fight against the cruel and deadly Drug War, it’s easy to feel alone and powerless. Being a part of Team FSDP at the Harm Reduction Conference made me realize that we are never alone – we are surrounded by friends worldwide who know exactly what we are going through and support us every step of the way. Together, as FSDP, we make our voice heard!

Families for Sensible Drug Policy at the 11th National Harm Reduction Conference in San Diego!

12809723_996162890465550_5205762628852637136_nEvery two years, the leaders and the soldiers in the fight for sane and sensible drug policy gather together for three days of learning, laughing, sharing, and sometimes crying.  At the 11th National Harm Reduction Conference, people from all wings of the movement – needle exchange pioneers, treatment professionals, activists, and families who have fought a drug war in their own homes – join forces.

It was my first Harm Reduction Conference, yet I felt I was among friends.  Meeting FSDP Co-founder Carol Katz Beyer for the first time was like hugging a family member I hadn’t seen in years.  No one has to ask each other why they’re there – we all share a bond of feeling, very personally, the wreckage of the drug war and the impact it has had on those we love.  

The FSDP booth in the Exhibition Hall was buzzing.  We met AIDS educators, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) members, needle exchange pioneers from states where needle exchange is still illegal, and marijuana legalization advocates.  I was especially excited with Jeannie Little, co-author of Over the Influence and one of my personal heroines, came by the table.   The heroes of harm reduction – people whose books decorate my coffee table and serve as references in my masters’ thesis – are so warm and accessible, happy to chat with a newbie and share a hug.  

Many of our members presented or spoke on panels:

“Missed Opportunities for Intervention in Correctional Facilities: Barriers to Harm Reduction Interventions and Solutions for Change”– Dale Schafer, FDSP Legal Advocate and Sentencing Reform Specialist, and Julie Apperson, FSDP Correctional Health Reform Advocate. 

“Nine Stories: The Experience of LGBT Individuals in 12 Step Rehab”– April Wilson Smith, FSDP Harm Reduction Epidemiologist 

“Red State Harm Reduction: Naloxone, Medical Amnesty and Drug Policy in the Bible Belt–Jeremy Galloway, FSDP Harm Reduction Coordinator 

IMG_3951One of the highlights of the conference was the panel on Health and Correctional issues, where FSDP Legal Advisor and Sentencing Reform Specialist Dale C. Schafer and FSDP Corrections Health Reform Advocate Julie Apperson spoke (pictured at right).  Dale talked about his experience spending 52 months in prison for growing a small amount of marijuana. It was hard to believe that such a distinguished attorney had actually spent time behind bars, and for nothing more than growing a medicinal plant to give to some friends who were sick.  

Julie spoke about her work to reform the prison health system, where inmates are routinely denied needed services. Medication is used as a weapon by guards who can arbitrarily deny inmates access to needed pills.  Psychiatric care is almost impossible to get, and even if a patient has insurance on the outside, they are not able to use that insurance to pay for needed care on the inside.  Julie’s passion for reforming prison health services led her to change her nursing career and go into the difficult world of behavioral health.  Her own son is currently in a correctional facility, and she fights for the rights of people like him every day.

The Harm Reduction Conference was such a big event that one post couldn’t hope to cover it, but one thing was clear: Families for Sensible Drug Policy is an internationally recognized voice for the families who have been affected by the senseless drug war.  Everywhere we went, leaders in the movement recognized us and sought us out.  We contribute a unique perspective to the conversation on drug policy – a conversation that all too often leaves our voices out.  

Being a part of team FSDP at the Harm Reduction Conference left me energized and ready to take on the fight!  Hope to see you there next time!  

— April Wilson Smith, FSDP Harm Reduction Epidemiologist