Letter To Friends and Family: Embracing a Harm Reduction Approach

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LETTER TO FRIENDS AND FAMILY:

Someone you care about is drinking or using drugs. You can see many ways he or she is creating problems in his/her life and creating harm in yours. Whether your partner, child, sibling or friend, you have stood by them in support as they have tried or refused treatment.

You may have left them, kicked him/her out or considered it; begged, pleaded, bargained, been tough, or soft. You are advocating for them because you love this person, fear for them, feel responsible for their well being or all of the above- yet you feel frustrated, defeated and confused about what to do next. You may be experiencing profound helplessness and have feelings of sadness, anger and isolation. Today’s optimisms induced by a new promise of never again is replaced by tomorrows disappointment when promises are broken. You end up with questions about loyalty, love, support and limits. How much help is too much? How many times do you cover up or overlook broken promises? How many times do you unbolt the door to let them have a shower or a sleep or feed? Should you give up hope of them changing, preferring family peace to fighting for change through chaos? Experts may have told you that you need to stop enabling, to start practicing tough love. You hope they’ll recognize how they are hurting themselves and others who care about them. The truth is that there are stages of change that are different for every family and staying connected helps individuals explore solutions that may be helpful for them.

Denial and hitting rock bottom

You may have learned that addiction is a disease and that only total abstinence with the support of the twelve steps is the treatment. You’ve come to believe that they must want to continue using or else all the trouble they’ve had would have convinced them to give up their substances. Their denial is so thick that only hitting rock bottom will motivate them to get sober. You’ve been told to stop bailing them out, cleaning up their mess, let them face consequences. Eventually they will hit rock bottom and sobriety will be possible and only with sobriety will come a life. Having believed this you urge them into treatment. However in spite of the acceptance and popularity of abstinence based treatment your family member has not got better. Despite the advice to abandon them you’ve loved them since they were born and the prospect of their death is too hard to contemplate.

Understanding how people change

So you’ve had it with promises and disappointments, exhausted by the fear and the suffering the substance abuse has brought, ashamed of their behavior, feel terrible for those they’ve hurt. You’ve heard of being patient, coping and passive in the face of all this. You’re tempted to take the advice, quit or get out. The problem is though, TOUGH LOVE DOESN’T WORK. It’s also awful for everyone to put into practice. It is totally unrealistic to expect people to change complicated behaviors on the basis of an ultimatum. Any approach that limits you to an all or nothing choice ignores the reality of HOW PEOPLE CHANGE. People change in incremental steps, practicing new behaviors and new ways of coping with life and feelings over time. The crucial ingredients to making lasting changes are understanding and support. When we expect immediate changes and refuse to be with the person during the process we undermine the very goal we seek to accomplish.

Separating a person from their behavior

Understanding, however, does not mean that you do not set limits. You set limits with two-year-olds and you set limits with adults. The limits you are setting are on behaviors. Children need limits that protect them from traffic, fire, poison etc. Adults need different limits, e.g. you can’t yell at me, I can’t let you take all our money for drugs. It is more usual to separate a person from his or her behavior. Spending all our money on drugs and alcohol doesn’t mean we are stupid we may be just overcome by need. Behaviors can be changed. Aspects of our personality can change. First of all we must have a basic sense of being valued to make it worthwhile to take care of ourselves. When we have children we give them unconditional love.

As they grow, the older they get, the less we can expect unconditional love to exist between parent and child. Relationships become equal partnerships in which we have to earn love and respect even from our parents. This is normal and healthy. Once we grow up the only place we can get unconditional love or more accurately unconditional positive regard is from a skilled therapist. You are not your child’s, partner’s or friend’s therapist. You don’t have to provide unconditional love to an adult no matter how much they may need it.

Harm reduction approach

The harm reduction approach suggests that you undertake the same kind of balanced evaluation of different options for taking care of yourself that we have encouraged our drug-using loved one to undertake. Weigh the pros, cons and consequences of actions so that whatever actions you take reflect the complexity

of the relationship with your loved one using drugs and the rest of the family. Just as the drug user needs to respect the complexity of his or her relationship with drugs before making decisions that will actually work and that can be maintained, you need to respect the complexity of your relationship with the drug using loved one. Harm reduction does not mean you have to end a relationship to improve it. Nor is abstinence the basis for an improved life. Nor does a drug user have to hit rock bottom to change. Incremental changes in drug using behavior along with incremental improvements in emotional coping skills are realistic and achievable goals. Abstinence may come at some point but for most people with substance misuse problems it is almost never a first step. For families it means a new way of thinking about the issue.

A new way of thinking

We know that this new perspective is a lot to swallow. It goes against everything you’ve learned about what addiction is and how it should be treated. How can someone who is still drinking or using the very drugs that make everything worse get better? We’re asking you to develop an entirely new set of ideas about this person you love and his or her relationship with drugs and alcohol. Your ability to be helpful to this person, and take care of yourself, will be enhanced by a change of perspective.

Adapted by Tony Trimingham, Founder, Family Drug Support http://www.fds.org.au/, and Barry Lessin and Carol Katz Beyer, Co-founders, Families for Sensible Drug Policy (FSDP) http://fsdp.org/ from:

‘Over the Influence’ by Patt Denning, Jeannie Little and Adina Glickman: Guilford Press.

 

Join us at the Drug Policy Alliance Reform Conference 2017!

Join us in Atlanta! Families for Sensible Drug Policy is privileged to be participating with our national and global partners at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference #Relogo_headerform17, October 11-14, 2017, in Atlanta GA.

#Reform17 is a biennial event representing more than 80 countries worldwide bringing folks from around the world who believe that the war on drugs is doing more harm than good.

Meet our team in person at our Exhibit Sponsor tableWe stand in solidarity with our global friends and partners and we are excited to welcome our friends across the miles.

At #Reform17, we are proud to celebrate our partnership with Family Drug Support (FDS), an Australian organization founded in 1997 by Tony Trimingham after the loss of his precious only son Damien to overdose. FSDP Co-founder Carol Katz Beyer was impacted by the loss of her beautiful and vibrant sons Bryan and Alex within this past year. 

Family Drug Support has pioneered a new model of support for families that helps families better understand and strengthen the connection between ourselves and loved ones who use substances. 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. 

image004We are bringing FDS’ model to the United States to offer workshops and establish our own network of peer-led support groups to empower our families by suggesting viable alternatives to explore potential solutions and coping strategies based on science and compassion. 

Don’t miss FSDP’s Harm Reduction Coordinator Jeremy Galloway who will be participating on the  panel “Naltrexone: Wonder Drug or “Shot” in the Dark?” Friday at 9:30am. sharing his expertise along with other panelists

We look forward to commemorating this auspicious occasion by celebrating the diversity and vision of our stakeholders–join us as we share ideas, thoughts and experiences to ensure that our communities receive the support and attention necessary for our families to realize their dreams in harmony and fulfillment.

An FSDP Advocate Planting Seeds of Harm Reduction in the South

FSDP is proud of our team of advocates and we’re pleased to share the latest blog post from our  Community Outreach Advocate Janet Goree and how she is planting seeds of harm reduction in the Georgia state corrections system…

As Community Outreach Advocate for Families for Sensible Drug Policy,  I take every opportunity to embrace and share our mission of empowering families to increase access to effective substance use disorder treatment and reduce the harmful consequences of oppressive drug policies.

After my youngest child was sentenced to a very long prison sentence I looked for a support and advocacy group where I could make a difference, an organization that was doing work that I could believe in. I found FSDP and knew I was home, especially because of the focus on families.

One of my regular outreach activities is visiting the Mitchell County Correctional Institute, a medium/minimum security facility housing 135 state inmates as well as 24 county offenders. The facility sits just on the outskirts of the tiny town of Camilla Georgia where I live.  Every other month I arrive at the facility on a Friday morning to speak to a roomful of inmates whose release dates are in sight.

The facility is run by Warden Bill Terry and is an exception in Georgia because of the commitment of the warden and his programs manager Kim Hatcher. They want to make sure the men leaving their facility have as many tools possible to make sure they never return.

My background is in child abuse prevention, which I became involved in after the shaking death of my granddaughter Kimberlin. I became involved in prison reform after my son Bobby was sentenced to thirty years in prison for robbing a drugstore.

Janet G blogI have just started to introduce harm reduction into the presentation. The first part of my presentation to the inmates is about the stressors they will be facing when they get out and some ways they can cope with them. I do an exercise with them called ” match the crime to the time”. The two crimes are 1) shaking a six week old child causing her death, and 2) robbing a drugstore while being improperly withdrawn from methadone at the hands of a professional. No one was physically injured.

The two sentences are 1) five years probation and 2) thirty years mandatory minimum. While most on the outside not involved with theJanet G blog1he work we do would guess that the murder of the child would certainly be the more severe sentence, the guys on the inside all get it. You see there is no money in locking up murderers but hundreds of millions of dollars have been made behind the war on drugs. Both of these crimes and sentences have impacted my family as my son Bobby is the one serving thirty years.

Just before I leave I tell them about FSDP and assure them that there are people out working very hard to change things, people that care about them. I look each and every one of them in the eye and wish them luck. Then I quietly say a little prayer as I walk out the doors they are locked behind.

FSDP Brings the Voice of our Families to Aspiring Medical Professionals

IMG_1960One of FSDP’s missions is to bring the family voice to the various segments of our society that directly impact our health. So I was excited to be joined by FSDP members Brooke Feldman and Kenneth Anderson, as well as Fred Goldstein, Ph.D., Professor of Clinical Pharmacology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) to share our perspectives on a panel discussion for medical students, “The Culture and Misperceptions of Addiction”, held at PCOM on Thursday, January 5, 2017.

The panel allowed us to reach healthcare providers at the beginning of their careers with a message about harm reduction, drug policy reform, progressive treatment and recovery, and substance use as public health and human rights issues. IMG_7851The audience of medical students were actively engaged and their questions prompted discussion about the nature of addiction, co-morbidity (dual diagnosis), engaging people in treatment, stigma, policy, epidemiology of substance use, impediments to effective care, conflicts of doctors…

Ken Anderson, founder of Harm Reduction, Abstinence and Moderation Support (HAMS) shared his expertise about the epidemiology and myths of substance use, addictIMG_7845ion, and recovery. Recovery advocate Brooke Feldman shared her unique perspectives on the lived experience of substance users, stigma, and the unique paths taken by people in recovery. I addressed some of the issues around the influences of culture and policy on substance users and families, and strategies for engaging young people and families in treatment.IMG_7846

Many thanks to our gracious hosts at PCOM, especially Maggie Gergen for coordinating the event, and FSDP Harm Reduction Epidemiologist April Wilson Smith for developing this event, and Co-Founder Carol Katz Beyer for her guidance.

We’re Bringing Dr. Robert Meyer’s CRAFT Workshop to Philadelphia

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We are excited to be partnering with the Parents Translational Research Center at the Treatment Research Institute in Philadelphia, PA to bring Dr. Robert Meyers highly acclaimed Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) workshop to Philadelphia, PA from March 28, 2016 — March 30, 2016.

Supported by 20 years of peer-reviewed research, Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) is a comprehensive behavioral program that teaches families to optimize their impact on substance using loved ones while avoiding confrontation or detachment. CRAFT methods are evidence-based and provide families with a hopeful, positive, and more effective alternative to addressing substance problems than other intervention programs.

For complete information about the workshop click here: CRAFT PHILADELPHIA Brochure. Space is limited, so sign up today. Completion of this training is the first step toward becoming a certified CRAFT therapist. Continuing Education credits will be awarded upon satisfactory completion. For those of you who aren’t aware of CRAFT or if you want more information about the CRAFT approach, please check out this link.

Below is a testimonial by Dr. William R. Miller about Bob Meyers and the CRAFT trainings:

‘Bob Meyers has made exemplary contributions to knowledge about the treatment of substance abuse and dependence, overseeing two decades of programmatic research to develop, refine, adapt, test and disseminate CRAFT. Bob is an exceptional human being and colleague. He is a superb clinical teacher who garners top marks from audiences ranging from counselors in recovery to doctoral-level health professionals. Dr. Meyers brings extraordinary energy, compassion, depth and humanity to his research, treatment and training’. 

William R. Miller, Ph.D. Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry. 

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We look forward to seeing all interested mental health professionals there!