Sheila P. Vakharia received her Master’s in Social Work from Binghamton University and a Post-Master’s Certificate in the Addictions from New York University. She worked for several years as a social worker in both traditional abstinence-only outpatient settings and at a syringe exchange where she provided counseling using a harm reduction approach. It was the frustration that there was an absolute dearth of substance use content and harm reduction information in social work programs that led her to pursue her PhD in Social Welfare at Florida International University’s School of Social Work.
While serving as an Assistant Professor at Long Island University‘s Social Work Department, she coordinated the Substance Use Counseling Concentration and taught courses infused with a harm reduction perspective. Additionally, Dr. Vakharia pursued numerous outside service and speaking opportunities which broadened her scope of focus to include domestic and international drug policy. She completed her Certificate of Human Rights and Drug Policy at Central European University in Budapest, which led to her writing a report summarizing Civil Society input for the preparations leading up to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in 2016. Her report synthesized the results of several hundred NGO responses translated across a dozen languages in which respondents from around the world expressed how the global war on drugs has impacted them and their participants. She was subsequently invited to speak at the 2015 Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna and twice at the United Nations in New York in 2016.
Her current work at the Drug Policy Alliance allows her to be an in-house nerd in their Office of Academic Engagement. She has ghostwritten and edited several organizational reports including “From Prohibition to Progress: A Status Report on Marijuana Legalization” and the summary report “Stimulant Use: Harm Reduction, Treatment, and Future Directions.” She maintains an interest in clinical harm reduction as well, with a co-authored chapter on harm reduction psychotherapy in the recently released co-edited book, “Decarcerating America: From Mass Punishment to Public Health.” Her co-authored paper “Starting Where the Client Is: Harm Reduction Guidelines for Clinical Social Work Practice” from 2016 is the all-time top downloaded article from the Clinical Social Work Journal suggesting that there is a desire among social workers to learn more about harm reduction approaches.