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

FSDP is the Voice of the Family at UNGASS 2016

ungass2016_0Families for Sensible Drug Policy (FSDP) is representing the voice of families impacted by substance use at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem in New York City on April 19-21, 2016.

UNGASS 2016 is a meeting of the United Nations member states to assess and debate global issues such as health, gender, or in this case, the world’s drug control priorities.

The last time a special session on drugs was held, in 1998, its focus was the total elimination of drugs from the world. UNGASS 2016 Today, political leaders and citizens are pushing to rethink that ineffective and dangerous approach.

Why this summit matters

International debates on drugs are rarely more than reaffirmations of the established system. But 2016 is different because never before have so many governments voice displeasure with international drug control approaches. Never before, to this degree, have citizens around the world have put drug law reform on the agenda and passed regulatory proposals by referenda or popular campaigns. Never before have the health benefits of harm reduction approaches—which prevent overdose and transmission of diseases like HIV—been clearer. For the first time, there is significant dissent at the local, national, and international levels.

Why the family voice in drug policy matters

The role of the family is what is missing from much of the drug policy debate. Substance use doesn’t takes 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. Families are in a unique position to directly influence the development or resolution of substance use problems.

UNGASS 2016 held an Informal Interactive Stakeholder Consultation in February 2016 to give nonprofit and civil society organizations from around the world an opportunity to submit their statements and recommendations for drug policy reform. With the input and support of our diverse community of stakeholders and advocates, Barry Lessin made this statement at this meeting on behalf of the families of FSDP.
UNGASS Flyer

We will co-sponsor this Day of Protest and Action with the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, The Center for Optimal Living and Help Not Handcuffs culminating in a workshop that bridges the gap between public policy and our homes, between parents and children, and connects the voices of diverse impacted communities.

 

 

 

9 Common Questions About a Drug That Saves Lives

One of the reasons I became involved in drug policy reform was because young people in my practice began dying from accidental overdose–this was alarming, but what was unacceptable to me was that there were few answers as to why.

Many states now have some form of naloxone access legislation as well as a 911 Good Samaritan law that will grant at least limited immunity for people calling 911 to report an overdose.

Unfortunately, there are still many barriers to actually implementing naloxone access programs. Here’s an article I wrote to explain some of these barriers and how individuals and families can overcome them:

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