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