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 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.