Side event – Protecting the rights of young people in the areas related to drugs and drug policy, under international regulations

Organized by Youth Organisations for Drug Action and the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe.

Ayesha Mian, Communications Officer,Youth Organisations for Drug Action (YODA): We, as young people, feel consistently failed by the drug policies that are meant to protect us. Even policymakers themselves admit that is difficult for legislation to keep up with new trends. It’s too slow and not good enough, even for traditional drugs. We know what young people need, and we face significant gaps, including budgetary. We are doing what we can to truly protect young people. Peer to peer education and services are cost efficient and effective. This is the best way to protect young people.

Irena Molnar, Programme Officer, ReGeneration: Will be speaking about harm reduction. Global Fund left Serbia and needle exchange service closed. No data on what happened after the closing of this program. Means that younger injection drug users are facing significant risk. Hard to reach youth population, many of which are part of the Roma community. Legally invisible so don’t have access to health care. Going to focus on recreational drug use. There is very little understanding of non-problematic drug use in my region. People going out to have fun. Focus on this to reduce the demand and prevent them from becoming problematic users. We don’t have any harm reduction programs for any of these people in the Balkans. Did research with young people in recreational settings and built a nightlife program that will service their needs. Also, don’t have basic sanitation at venues. Two cases of fire with a number of causalities. An emergency policy was put in place for Europe, but only covered fire. Need basic things to respect their right to health, like access to water to wash their hands. Guidelines for implementing specific interventions are not adopted. Proud of Serbian government who reached out to us to see how we can do better. Problem with introducing early warning systems and providing safety information. Not clear on extent of use of NPS. We have no programs to tackle that and no data to base that on. Need tailored programs for young people using drugs in recreational settings. Harm reduction programs crucial for young people to help them make educated choices, and even save lives. Need to involve young people in decision making for programs that are being designed for them.

Kelly Parra Alba, Deputy Director, Students for Sensible Drug Policy UK (SSDP UK): Working on pill testing initiative across UK universities, as well as more education. Producing simple materials to give to young people. In UK, experiencing some challenges. Illicit drug use rose from 1960s to 1990s, but fallen since then. However, drug harms have risen. Highest record of drug deaths in UK and many of those were associated with high doses and adulteration. Data and information that young people have is limited and inconsistent. EMCDDA acknowledge that they are the only EU wide resource on young people and drugs. They even say that data is limited. Clearly a gap. Drug education is inadequate. Minimal and just tells young people that drugs are bad. Drives misconceptions and fear. Perfect conditions for unprecedented levels of harm. Recent story of a girl that took all of her ecstasy because of the presence of sniffer dogs, and overdosed. Young people excluded from university or having other challenges because they were caught with a substance or have substance dependence issues. No communication between different services and points of intervention that youth access. Cuts to public health sector and youth services are the first to go. That’s the worst thing to cut. Proposed a youth and student drug survey. First need to understand the needs of young people before we can find a solution. This information will help us to empower young people and improve their health. Note that the substances we are concerned with include tobacco and alcohol as well, which pose massive problems. Can reduce the harms that young people experience through education and services, rather than criminalizing them (which happens very often in UK, especially in ethnic communities). Vital to include young people in consultation processes to fill the gaps.

Jan Stola, Executive Director, Youth Organisations for Drug Action (YODA): Focus on criminal law and its enforcement, and how this impacts young people and their rights. For last 30 years in Poland, possession of any amount of any drugs is a criminal offence with a penalty of three years in prison. Since 2011, this can be avoided if the amount is for an undefined small amount, though this is decided by the prosecutor so there are huge differences in implementation. People arrested for simple possession increasingly steadily. 80% of people charged with drug possession are under 30 years old. Police patrols go into neighbourhoods and target young people. Stop and search them. In one of twenty cases, they find a bit of drugs and that is the police’s victory. Police in Poland introduce tactic of “fishing net” (i.e., searching a lot of people to catch somebody with drugs). Putting strain on relationship between police and community. Undermines young people’s trust in the police. I have been stopped and searched 20-30 times. Never found in possession of drugs. If you refuse the stop and search, they will take you to the police station and you will get a full strip search. We have 25,000 young people arrested each year for drug possession, and they are being treated this way by police. 19 year old boy had one gram of cannabis. He was stopped by police and as a result of fear, swallowed the cannabis in the plastic bag. The police started grabbing his neck to prevent him from swallowing, and he choked and died. Led to protests against police, which also happens elsewhere in the EU. Stop and search violates rights of young people. What do we gain from this? Should have some proper results. No evidence that the presence of drug use has been affected by this. It has kept rising since 2001, and stabilized a few years ago. No correlation between people arrested for drug use and consumption. Plenty of international resolutions on respecting the right to privacy. Should be properly enforced.

Ivica Cekovski, Policy and Research Advisor, Healthy Options Project Skopje (Macedonia): Will speak about access to treatment for minors who use drugs in Macedonia. Over the past two decades, international drug policy dialogue has moved from debating only demand and supply to including more comprehensive health and human rights approach. International guidance progressing in right direction, but has not reached practice on the ground. No information and data on drug use trends among young people in my region. Will share some case studies. 13 year old boy using drugs since 8 years old. By the time he was 15, he was encountered in a very bad health condition. He was hospitalized for few months. Needed a surgical treatment but was denied. Seemed to be because he was infected with HIV. Now he is of legal age, was incarcerated for minor offences. Another case of a 16 year old girl encountered by our teams in a bad condition. Was pregnant at the time. Heard that she miscarried and was not motivated to access treatment. Despite insufficient data, many barriers to accessing treatment for minors who use drugs. Obvious lack of collaboration between institutions and people who work in the field. Call on governments to recognize that minors who use drugs have special needs. Remove barriers to their accessing of evidence-based treatment. Work with youth organizations on the ground.

Thomas Kattau, Deputy Executive Secretary, Pompidou Group, Council of Europe: Committed to working toward closer cooperation between civil society (including youth organizations) and government. Handbook with guidelines for this cooperation, titled, “Government interaction with Civil Society.” Developed this in true and close collaboration with civil society. Policymakers have to deliver to satisfy their societies. Cooperation with civil society is indispensable to doing so. Together, we can deliver better results. Moving away from ideological approaches. Cooperate for public good, not ideology. Collaboration takes steps from both sides. Civil society can deliver a lot.

Ayesha Mian, Communications Officer,Youth Organisations for Drug Action (YODA): Continue to move away from ideological debates/rhetoric/paying lip service by not working with the ones with the knowledge and experience. It can work, and Pompidou work is helping lead the way. We are not the youth ideological organizations of the 1980s. The world continues to change and we cannot stop that, new challenges will emerge and we have the means to respond – but only if we are honest with ourselves, have the courage to go with the evidence, and adapt fast enough. Ultimately, we must respect each other, our experiences, and our humanity. We want to shape our future and are ready and willing to play an active role and contribute to a sustainable and positive future.

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