Representing the Voice of the Family at the 2017 International Harm Reduction Conference #HR17

C_DNaZxXgAAUhpMRepresenting our family voices in the global harm reduction community, FSDP Co-Founder Barry Lessin and I enthusiastically attended the 2017 International Harm Reduction Conference #HR17 in Montreal, Canada, May 14-17, 2017.

The theme of this year’s conference was ‘At the Heart of the Response’ and addressed “innovative harm reduction services, new or groundbreaking research, effective or successful advocacy campaigns and key policy discussions or debates. With delegates from more than 70 countries the programme not only reflects the truly global nature of our movement but also addresses key international issues”

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We had the opportunity to meet with our global partners Australian Family Drug Support (FDS) powerhouse Tony Trimingham (right) and Shaun Shelly (below) to identify the issues that are unique to families and bringing the family voice into our home communities. The inspirational and motivational moments were continued with a dynamic and thought provoking celebration of family empowerment that culminated in New York City May 20-21, 2017 with an extraordinary weekend filled with enlightenment and hope. Barry and I are energized and privileged to bring the FDS model of family support to our cherished friends here in the United States. We remain humbled and honored to serve our growing network of families who are asking for non judgmental alternatives to support optimal health and well being for their loved ones impacted by substance use while managing their own needs and self care in the process.

FSDP AC_9Zk_UUwAAB1qWdvisory Board member Shaun Shelly (whom we got to meet in person for the first time!) explaining the challenges and successes in his groundbreaking work in harm reduction service delivery to his native South Africa.

One of the highlights of #HR17 for many of the attendees was the dynamic presentation given by Andrew Tatarsky (right) on “The Scientific Revolution of Addiction Treatment”, exploring how his model os Integrative Harm Reduction Psychotherapy 18558570_1716762775007021_2210259828598535816_o(IHRP) can enhance harm reduction services and make addiction/substance misuse treatment relevant to the majority of problematic drug users who have been turned off or hurt by traditional abstinence-only treatment.

18527769_1714581398558492_4107739766811187219_nPausing to honor the dedication and commitment of our global partners, appreciating the connection and spirit of compassion shared among cherished friends like Zeeshan Ayyaz Shani, who sadly could not attend because of visa related obstacles. Paying tribute to his courageous advocacy and extraordinary efforts on behalf of drug users in Pakistan through his exemplary work with Middle East and North Africa Harm Reduction Association (MENAHRA).

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Barry and Tony discussed the new collaboration of Tony’s Family Drug Support model of family support and FDSP’s commitment to bring strategies and solutions into the homes of our families!. Below, Tony joins me, Deborah Peterson Small, who spoke at a morning plenary on the global priorities of drug policy, and Ernie Drucker, valued mentor to FSDP and author of “A Plague of Prisons”. 
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Stay tuned for more about FSDP’s next steps in our collaboration with Tony’s Family Drug Support to empower families, restore health and save lives…

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