Side event: How can the international drug control system provide a better tomorrow for the world’s youth?

Organised by the Government of the Czech Republic, Transform Drug Policy Foundation, Moms United to End the War on Drugs, Reach Out Centre and YouthRise.

‘ As the UN meets to review global drug policy and how we might achieve the 2019 goals, families from across the globe, whose lives have been impacted by drug law enforcement, have gathered in New York to tell their stories and inform the high level debate. As an affected population whose voices are rarely heard, family members who have been impacted by the ‘unintended consequences’ of drugs control – from Belgium, the US, Mexico, Canada, the UK, the Philippines and Afghanistan – will give personal accounts, including bereavement, incarceration and human rights abuses. This will be followed by an interactive discussion about what forms of drug control can better protect young people and keep families safer.

Jane Slater, Anyone’s Child (Moderator): Thanks everyone for coming, especially the Czech Republic. Telling the real human stories about the war on drugs. We are hear as Anyone’s Child. We are trying demonstrate how everyone is impacted by the war on drugs. Looking to build this campaign internationally. There needs to be an urgent end to the war on drugs. How many more child have to die? Please listen

Cara Lavan, UK: Current international drug policy is based on the premise that people will stop being able to access drugs. My partner Jake, 37, died 2 years ago this week. He started using drugs and began to be stigmatised in the media. He met people who used heroin and crack, and started using these drugs too. He’d turned his life around 5 years prior to when I met him, and was finishing up his Masters degree. We have a son, and Jake was a wonderful father. Jake had an ongoing desire to keep using substances. He didn’t feel that the 12 steps program worked for him. He was then falsely accused of a crime. He then turned back to drugs, he was able to access them within an hour of deciding to use again. Prohibition doesn’t work. Jake passed away soon after that. My son is now 4 years old and may turn to drugs, so I want him to be able to access clean drugs. I want to make drug use boring.

Gretchen Burns Bergman, Moms United: I have a personal story. I have two sons that struggled with heroin addiction. We must look at alternatives like harm reduction approaches. Drugs are dangerous, but not as dangerous as the war on drugs itself. We must stop stigmatising, and start offering support. Legalisation and regulation is the answer. Drugs should be considered under a public health approach. We must speak out. It’s only going to happen if we have our voices heard for the safety of children around the world.

Maricela Orozco, Mexico. Caravan for peace, life and justice. We have travelled through 5 countries. This is a story about how to unite our stories. I am the mother of a 19 yr child kidnapped 2 years ago. My 15 year old son and 25 year old son-in-law were murdered. We are looking for our loved ones, and placing all responsibility on the Mexican state.

Peter Muyshondt, police officer from Belgium. 9 years ago I lost my brother to overdose. He forced me to look differently at drug policy. Should I be a policeman 24/7 or a brother? It prevented me from having a normal relationship with my brother. He was arrested multiple times. I tried to imagine how he felt. I know police culture, I know custody procedures of police. It’s not a nice environment to be in. My brother had a non-lethal overdose, and was kicked out of a psychiatric hospital. I went to pick him up and dropped him at his dealers house. If he wasn’t labelled a criminal, and had better access to harm reduction services, he might still be alive, sitting next to me.

Grace, Philippines. This is a story of my brother. Our parents had him arrested for drug use. He assured me he was ok, but I knew he wouldn’t be ok in jail. He died multiple times – he wants his dignity back. His dignity has died. I only wanted to see him happy, whether he was using or not. He was murdered due to a messed up drug deal. We can die in many ways – in addiction, in stigma. Had he received kindness, he would’ve given back hope. The war on drugs is on the people that need the most help. We deprive them of their rights. They can be champions of their own battles, only if we let them be.

Karen Garrison, Washington DC. My identical twin sons were arrested in 1998 and charged with cocaine conspiracy. Lawrence got 15, Lamont got 19 years. They’d graduated with degrees in political science. They didn’t know what they were accused of conspiring with. We worked really hard to try change the law. We got a reduction of sentence, they came home earlier. There were no drugs, no guns. The police tore up my home and found nothing. I represent mass incarceration, overcriminalisation and racial disparities in the justice system. All wars have victims. The war is on African-Americans. We fight for the men and women, the families. It’s my mission to bring these people home. I’m fighting for a better world, a better time.

Murtaza Majeed, Afghanistan, YouthRISE. I am a youth in this building, frustrated about not being heard. We are told we are useless and not grown up enough to understand. We are not trying to work against the UN, we are trying to work with them. How many lives have we lost in the last 18 years since the 1998 UNGASS? This war doesn’t work, it’s about killing people. Kids sleep under the blankets of adults, sell their bodies, because they have no support with their drug use. We are here to make a change. Our concern is not that change is not happening – we have the solution, we can help you make this change.

Lugard Abila, Kenya. Aged 26, the police raided my sisters home, leaving behind her 7 year old daughter. My heart is grieving. A place she used to call home. Terrified by the police officers, she jumped from a second story building, breaking her spine, she could never walk again. She has limited access to health services as a drug user, and stigmatisation takes this further. We know drug use disrupts families and societies – but bad drug policies do much worse. Think of that small girl, think of the visible and invisible deaths.

Donna May, Canada. 44 months ago my daughter overdosed. I sat beside her as she died in hospital. In the cabinet beside her there was naloxone – but the emergency doctor didn’t use it as they didn’t know how. I am calling for education. She had 3 young children, they now don’t have their mother. This travesty is not about a grieving mum – our health minister stood up to advocate for a policy based in social care, because of our stories. Yesterday, my daughter’s voice was finally heard. So have hope – and let it drive you. That’s what I have done for 44 months. The morning i woke up knowing we were changing government, i was happy for the first time since her death. If we support decriminalisation and support a public health approach, reject all in-conceived hopes for a drug free world. Everybody told me my voice wouldn’t be heard – yesterday it was. I tweeted Justin Trudeau and asked him to come down here today.

Questions/Comments

Mexico: I come from Veracruz Mexico. I am a mother and a human rights defender. In our country human rights are not being up held by our government. I cam to NY yesterday – I came from looking for our sons and daughters in a mass grave in Mexico. We ask for the Mexican government to stop hiding this, to make things visible. I came to ask all of your to keep present to you that my companions are still searching in these mass graves, we are doing the work of the Mexican government, they are not searching for our children – we will never stop searching for our sons and daughters.

USA: My son died from drug assisted suicide. I realise now that I need to reach out to the police officers that found him. They were very supportive. I would like to reach out and thank you for being her on behalf of police officers, to remind us that there are police officers that care.

Maria, Mexico:  I am a mother of 4 disappeared sons. I am looking for them along with everyone who has disappeared. Our government is not standing up for human rights issues. I am looking for every child missing in Mexico.

Eva, Czech Republic: I will share my story. In my country, it’s very easy to get any substance over the age of 15. We have methamphetamine problems. But we have very low rates of overdose and HIV, due to the government supporting harm reduction. It’s the safest place I have ever visited in my place, due to liberal drug policies and the model of decriminalisation. I wish all of my friends around the world could live in a place as safe as mine, where we are starting to support regulation.

Italy: The shadow of stigma goes beyond drugs – how do we reduce this?

Moms United: What is stigma – it’s discrimination and lost rights. It’s a mothers issue, it’s a families issue.

Jane Slater: I hope we can join together to stop the discrimination.

One comment

  1. The most powerful moments at UNGASS were the tragic personal stories. Second was the representatives from the progressive and compassionate governments like Canada, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Mexico and others rolling out their positions. I am often asked if I continue to fight for my son, Jordan, who died in 2014 of an opioid overdose. I say, I am fighting for all the sons and daughters still with us.
    Leslie McBain, Moms Stop the Harm, Canada

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