Our heartfelt presence at The International Harm Reduction Conference #HR17 in May 2017 was a springboard for a dynamic and thought provoking weekend: A celebration of family empowerment that filled attendees with enthusiasm and hope, while offering enlightened strategies, tools, and opportunities for advocacy.
Day 1: Workshop on Peer-Led Family Support Model
The two-part weekend that followed was an expansion of our global partnership including Liz Evans and Mark Townsend (not pictured) of New York Harm Reduction Educators (NYHRE) and Washington Heights Corner Project which featured a workshop introducing Tony Trimingham’s Family Drug Support (FDS) model (in center at right with Barry Lessin and me) and an international panel discussing the life-saving value of Supervised Injecting Facilities (SIFs).
Our families have a vital role in the development and resolution of how substance use impacts their home—for far too long our families have not been afforded the opportunity to engage as active participants and problem-solvers. The weekend offered a new paradigm of support for families impacted by substance use.
The weekend events, highly lauded by a passionate gathering of family members and clinicians, were a milestone for FSDP, allowing us to offer our vision of tangible support for families, based on what families need, expect and experience. This model of support helps families better understand and strengthen the connection between ourselves and loved ones who use substances. The peer-led support groups present viable alternatives for families to explore potential solutions and coping strategies.
Day 2: International Panel about a Public Health Response Proven to Save Lives: Supervised Injection Sites (SIFs)
We were delighted to have CNN political commentator Symone Sanders (at right, between Liz and Tony) emcee the gathering at the Malcom X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center in Harlem. It was a moving interactive presentation before a diverse and engaged audience. The featured presentations were delivered by harm reduction pioneers Tony and Liz, who poignantly shared their own personal stories reflecting the inspiration that led them to do their groundbreaking work that included establishing successful SIFS in Sydney and Vancouver, respectively.
Evidence from years of research is conclusive that SIFs reduce HIV and hepatitis transmission risks, prevent overdose deaths, reduce public injections, reduce discarded syringes, and increase the number of people who enter drug treatment. Across the globe, there have been no reported fatalities from an overdose in an SIF.
My own personal journey as a parent and healthcare advocate was inspired by the compelling and relatable perspectives shared during the presentations, as I too am a mother who is devastated by the recent loss of my precious son and student of the world, Bryan.
Bryan’s life parallels many young lives who, despite a loving relationship with a beautiful new wife, a supportive family in his corner and an amazing circle of friends who believed that laughter was the best medicine, his valiant attempts with sustainable periods of time in and around “recovery” were ultimately circumvented by much of what does not work about a ‘one size fits all’ model. Far too many young lives are tragically being lost to an accidental and fatal overdose that is preventable!
My own perspectives and belief system came full circle from the early days when our families were first indoctrinated to the mantra of the addiction professionals champing for ‘hitting bottom’ and ‘detaching with love’ as the remedy. Despite a decade-plus of extensive and ongoing attempts by my own family to embrace the recommendations of the traditional treatment industry, our personal situation continued to implode on a downward spiral of pricey interventions, therapeutic wilderness programs, and exorbitant rehabs that over promised and under delivered.
Myths like encouraging us to use the criminal justice system, or advising us that advocating for our child’s well-being essentially reduces us to ‘enablers’ and ‘codependents’, only exacerbated the family issues and compromised health rather than supported it. If only we had the opportunity to turn our focus to empowerment and safeguard our loved ones with viable medical models during those times that they were in active addiction. Many people with problematic substance use have little or no access to evidenced-based care, or simply were not ready or able to embrace a path that was limited to abstinence-based recovery.
Our families deserve person-centered screenings and alternative solutions that meet them where they are with the goal of optimal health and wellness based on individual needs and unique circumstance.
Stay tuned to learn about more of our upcoming events as our momentum moves forward towards the Fall, where we will be representing the voice of the family at the 2017 Drug Policy Alliance Reform Conference.