Side event: Are drug policies protecting youth?

Organised by Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). 

Orsi Feher (Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Vienna)

Hello and welcome. As representatives of SSDP, we represent 264 chapters over 26 countries, including Nigeria, Austria, United States. We will be speaking about our own experiences. As I am originally from Hungary I will be speaking about Hungary.

Fergal Eccles (Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Ireland)

Thank you. Drugs rarely kill people in Portugal, but we have a high rate of death from overdose. In Ireland, we don’t get taught in university how to use the recovery program. I think governments need to be more instrumental in teaching these skills. Governments have to take note that things can be done to reduce harms from drug use. As well as leading Europe in overdose rates, Ireland also leads Europe in suicide rates. I am not saying that this is linked. How do we get away from this, and what do we do to look after each others mental health. If people are experienced in looking after each other, we will have better outcomes. I work for Help Not Harm, and also do festival work in the UK and Ireland with the Loop. What we do is create a safe space and help people look after each other. We ask if they have used drugs, and look after them if they have. People are often afraid to tell medics and police that they have used drugs. We get many praises from medical services and the police for the work that we do. We give out drug education, pill reports, and condoms etc. We promote safe practices, that’s what you’ve got to do. Recently in the UK, a young women died after taking ecstasy at the O2 festival whilst waiting the queue, as she worried about being caught by sniffer dogs. The stigmatisation of drug users, and the criminalisation of drugs, means kids aren’t scared of drugs – they’re scared of being caught with them. We can provide a place to relax, if you’ve lost your friends and there’s no battery in your phone, you can come in, charge the phone and have a cup of tea. We had an experience of a young person experiencing psychosis, showing suicidal tendencies, and thinking police were ‘out to get them’. The other established services didn’t do much to stop them worry, but we provided a safe space until they were ready to go back into the festival again. It’s quite normal for young people to try to use drugs. To talk about stigmatisation, I’ll pass back over to Orsi.

Orsi Feher (Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Austria)

I’ve spent a considerably long time volunteering for harm reduction in Hungary. People who use drugs in Hungary are victimised, and seen to be criminals. In the National Drug Strategy, harms are mentioned 90 times, but harm reduction only 13 times. There is nothing written about how to help people. There is a lack of evidence base and education, Young people have the right to make mistakes, and we cannot punish them for not knowing any better. If we criminalise people for making a mistake, we’re ultimately criminalising them for being children. With the culture, we make kids fear, but we don’t make them fear using drugs. These days, with new psychoactive substances, young people don’t know what drugs they are taking and the harms involved. Children are afraid to turn for help, and are more afraid of criminal records than the harms from drugs. Ambulances don’t have the resources to deal with these things when they are called. There are hundreds of music festivals in Hungary, that attract people from all around the world, but they have very good access to harm reduction programs. Free water at concert venues and music festivals is not readily available, and only available 3 out of 5 times. This is a chart that shows access to harm reduction and safe-use services/tools in Hungarian music festivals.

As a part of the youth, preaching total abstinence can not be taken as a serious measure, and ultimately is incredibly harmful. The UNGASS 2016 was titled ‘A Better Tomorrow for the World’s Youth’.

Fergal – Children that sit down with their families for one meal a day, statistics show that these children are the ones that do not start using drugs. Children that aren’t protected, are less likely to want to sit down with their families, and may start using harder drugs. Their family are the people they take drugs with. Young people have to want to change their use patterns, and they have to be provided with the tools to do this.

Orsi – it is not easy to speak to our parents and the older generations about this. They are afraid of telling their parents as they don’t think they’ll understand.

Fergal/Orsi – Compassion has to be on the forefront of drug policy

  1. Education and harm reduction – it is not up to standard – people don’t know basic survival techniques, like first aid, and they don’t know about legal procedures.
  2. Evaluation of international drug policies and holding member states accountable – looking around here, it seems like the goal of a drug free world is more important than upholding human rights
  3. Modernising legal approach – people shouldn’t have there livelihood taken away because they use drugs. Ireland have some of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world, and steps need to be taken to reduce the penalties involved with low level drug offences
  4. Allow and invest in research – with regard to all aspects of all substances – there is a huge amount of debate around psychedelic research, before you even get to the research itself
  5. Participation of youth and youth-related organisations in the development, implementation and evaluation of drug policies. Policy makers need to listen to youth. The most at-risk youth receive no education and are afraid to reach out to their peers. Many young people in Ireland feel more comfortable coming to student drug policy organisations than speaking to doctors or lawyers. This is not the way it should be, and we are not qualified to give advice. We can point people in the right direction, but we have no authority to do this.

In Ireland, despite a new medical cannabis bill, doctors are still wary of prescribing medical cannabis as they are afraid of having their licences revoked. It is not fair that people in America can be prescribed cannabis for life-threatening diseases, but in Ireland we can’t. The legislation needs to help people help other people.

 

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