LIU Brooklyn Professor Invited to Present Report on International Drug Policy at UN in Vienna
BROOKLYN, NY (October 12, 2015) – Sheila Vakharia, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., a third-year assistant professor in the Department of Social Work at LIU Brooklyn, traveled to Vienna, Austria to participate in the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs on September 24.
Alongside drug policy experts from across the globe, Vakharia presented the findings of a report she authored based on a study conducted by the the New York and Vienna NGO Committees on Drugs and their Civil Society Task Force (CSTF) to identify the priorities and concerns that should be addressed in the upcoming United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, which will be held in New York City in April 2016.
The UNGASS will convene member states to reassess the current global drug control system prohibiting the use, possession, manufacture, and cultivation of all drugs, which has been in place since 1961. “How well have we’ve been dealing with controlling drugs? How well have we been managing the health and wellbeing of people who use drugs? What are some of the unintended consequences of the current drug control policy?” are some of the questions that will be addressed, Vakharia said.
In addition to delegates from the UN, two subcommittees—New York NGO (non-government organization) Committee and a Vienna NGO Committee—were created to represent the civil society voices, such as treatment providers, organizations that work with people who use drugs, families affected by drugs, and drug advocacy organizations.
The CSTF developed a web-based survey that was distributed to NGO organizations in countries around the world asking what priorities should be addressed at UNGASS in April. But when the responses started coming in—thousands of surveys in dozens of languages—the committee needed someone to analyze and translate the data into a report summarizing the results.
Vakharia, who worked as a clinical social worker specializing in individual and group counseling of drug users before earning her Ph.D., and is a regular participant in the New York NGO meetings on drug policy, volunteered for the job. “I really wasn’t expecting any sort of financial reimbursement or opportunities to go speak or anything. I just thought the work needed to be done and someone needed to do it fast. I was willing to be that person,” she said.
For two weeks Vakharia poured over “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of surveys.” The resulting report—based on the translations available at the time (English, Persian, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Italian, and Turkish)—outlined key issues that representatives of NGOs across the world want taken into account in planning the UNGASS agenda. The report was adopted as the official recommendations of the CSTF and was released to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the Head of the UN General Assembly Special Session and other high level international officials. CSTF was invited to attend the CND fifth intersessional meeting in Vienna to discuss the report. Vakharia was chosen as the representative.
“It’s moments like this that remind you that you, as an academic, can use your voice and platform to help affect real change,” said Vakharia upon her return from Vienna. “All too often, we find ourselves writing for one another in peer-reviewed journals which never make it into the public sphere.”
She said that a large number of delegations attended the presentation in Vienna. “It is heartening to know that the perspectives of civil society are valued by UN delegations and it is our hope that these perspectives will find their way into the decisions that are made as we move forward towards the UNGASS.”
Vakharia is currently expanding the report to incorporate feedback from respondents in France, Spain, Russia, and dozens of other countries, and is working with LIU Brooklyn social work students to analyze the data. She also presented the report at a Civil Society Hearing at the UN in New York on October 21, and hopes to have the opportunity to participate in the UNGASS proceedings in April.