Home » Side Event: Global youth perspectives on shifting drug policies

Side Event: Global youth perspectives on shifting drug policies

Organised by Students for Sensible Drug Policy International, Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, SSDP Australia, Youth Organisations for Drug Action, YouthRise

Ailish Brennan, YouthRISE/SSDP, Ireland

Thank you all for coming to our side event today, it is fantastic to see such a varied group of people from a number of different delegations and organizations from a number of different regions around the world. This is something we have tried to represent today in terms of getting the perspective of people from a wide variety of regions in our side event today and in other events we’ve been involved with, as well as through other organizations we are connected to. It is great to see that being represented in the audience as well. My name is Ailish Brennan and I am with the organization Youth RISE as well as Students for Sensible Drug Policy. This side event has been organized by Youth RISE, YODA, SSDP, CSSDP, and SSDP Australia.

We have four speakers today – firstly, Patricia Chulver Benitez from SSDP she is the founder of SSDP Bolivia and is the Executive Director of Accion Semilla Foundation. Then we have Stefan Pejic who is from YODA, he works in outreach and harm reduction in the Regeneration organization in Serbia and is also the YODA youth ambassador for Serbia. We also have Daniel Nii Ankrah who is from Youth RISE and is the co-founder of Activista Ghana. He is the Youth RISE representative to Paradigma, and recently has been working a lot on the gendered dimension of drug use within his region. Then finally we have Alex Betsos from CSSDP. He is a research masters student in the University of Amsterdam, he is also the International Representative for CSSDP, as well as the co-founder and former volunteer co-ordinator of Karmik.

This side event is based off the Ask document, which you will see on your table in front of you, and specifically based on the Ask 2 about shifting drug policies towards human rights and health-based approaches. There are four key components to the Ask 2 and each speaker will be discussing one key component.


Firstly, we will have Patricia, she will be speaking about the review and repeal of punitive laws associated with criminalisation of drug use and possession of drugs for personal use.

Patricia Chulver, SSDP Colombia

Review and repeal the punitive laws associated with criminalization of drug use and possession of drugs for personal use.

What do you think of when you think about Bolivia – regulation of coca leaf.

Region: last decade in all countries the amount of prisoners for drug offences has increase in South America. Brazil >320% from 2005 to 2012. 60% of prisoners in some countries are women.

Research related to crimes and people in prisons for drugs – proportionality of the penalties. The law prohibits use. In jails, drug offenders are the largest represented group within prison population. In 3 years, 4 crimes – manufacturing, transportation, supply and trafficking. Manufacturing is crime with less people in jail – most for trafficking.

Most population is male and city of Oruro shows highest amount of women. Cochabamba had highest proportion of women in prison in 2018. Drug policy is taking consumers as criminals, and women are in a very vulnerable position. Less than 30% of detained people are sentenced. Important to have alternatives to imprisonment. We need use and trafficking as health problems rather than criminal ones. We need to create polies based on real situation.

Ailish: Next, we will have Stefan, and he will be speaking about aligning supply reduction priorities with those of public health and human rights to create safe and healthy communities.

Stefan Pejic, YODA, Serbia

Align supply reduction priorities with those of public health and human rights to create healthy and safe communities.

Thank you – youth are usually underrepresented so glad you are all here to hear us. Drug policies are not working. My research is on chemsex users in Belgrade, this has an affect on Serbia’s MSM communities.

Recently 3 of Serbias largest GHB producers were arrested – however, the drugs did not go away. The risks increased – people were using behind closed doors. Focusing on demand and harm reduction will reduce the risk. But its not as bad as it seems – Mainline and 56 … st. Open conversation on needs of people who use drugs. Drug use shouldn’t be the question of law enforcement – it’s the question of human rights, public health and society as a whole.

Ailish: Now, we will have Daniel, who will be speaking on acknowledging and investing in harm reduction initiatives in global drug policy and targets.

Daniel Nii Ankrah, YouthRISE, Ghana

Acknowledge and include harm reduction initiatives in global drug policies and targets.

We are experiencing a 62nd CND session where we are taking stock of the implementation of the commitments made to jointly address and counter the world drug problem after a decade. This provides a congenial space for reflection on existing drug policies, identifying lapses and proffering solutions that are inclusive of and sensitive to the health needs of drug users especially women and youth as they face a double level of discrimination when harm reduction is trivialized. Therefore, a country by country analysis of drug policy contextualization, implementation and reporting of conventions will be relevant to chart a new course that fuses harm reduction with the health and wellbeing of state parties’ citizens.

This CND session equally provides an opportunity for state parties to recognize and prioritize harm reduction initiatives as against implementing to the letter, drug policies that excludes the human rights and health rights of drug users. It is expedient that civil society, government and other stakeholders partner to include and sustain harm reduction initiatives in implementing global drug policies and targets in a manner that resonates with good health and well-being, the SDG goal 3, target 3.5 to strengthen prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol.

The World Drug Report 2017 revealed that, 29.5 million or 11% of the people who use drugs in 2015 suffered from a ‘drug use disorder’ requiring treatment but only 1 in 6 has access to it.

Our dismal of the reality that drug use rate is rising poses a threat to our populations seeing that if not adequately addressed, we put our youth population and human resource at a high risk. Especially for Africa which has the youngest population with people under the age of 35 years accounting for some 65% of the total, therefore we need to review and repeal laws and attitudes that obstruct access to health services for people who use drugs.

In reality, there are serious negative consequences with the ‘war on drugs’ globally and hence there is the need for an evidence based multi-disciplinary approach across the world to regard drug use primarily as a public health problem and to support people dependent on drugs through a harm reduction lens via treatment and recovery instead of punishing them.


  1. Denial by users especially amongst young people and young women.
  2. Increased usage of drug users, overdose and intoxication as they do not have public health support services and systems.
  3. Heightened Stigmatization of drug users as social deviants and limit to realizing their rights.
  4. Intervention gap created in addressing the harms associated with drug use by CSOs, government and other stakeholders.


There is need for a paradigm shift from laws that target a drug free world to ones that include harm reduction. The UN has endorsed a comprehensive package of harm reduction interventions reflected in the WHO, UNODC, UNAID technical Guide for countries to set targets for universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care for injecting drug users. The comprehensive package is also reflected in the Outcome Document of the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction published a paper in 2017 suggesting the presence of drug checking interventions helped save several lives in Belgium and the Netherlands, while the absence of such interventions in the United Kingdom may be partially responsible for the deaths of four young people exposed to the same batch of pills in 2015.

In Kenya, there are currently a few harm reduction programs supported by donors in seven cities. The services include distributing of clean injection equipment, sexual and reproductive health information and services, drop- in centers, HOV and TB counseling and testing and medical assisted therapy (MAT).

In Ghana the Narcotics Control Board (NACOB) has advocated the establishment of Regional Rehabilitation Centres (REREH) health care units and centers across the country to facilitate the reintegration of drug addicts back to their families and the larger society. The Centres should be well equipped to provide effective clinical therapy, psychological and spiritual services to those addicted to narcotic drugs, leading to their early recovery and integration into society. This progress is a shift from the Narcotic Control Commission Bill of 2014 which has numerous severe sanctions for drug users which go to further criminalize drug users. Sub clause 1 states:  “A person shall not, without lawful authority or excuse, proof of which lies on that person, smoke, sniff, consume, inject into the body of that person or otherwise administer a narcotic drug  the body of that person

Under the Drug Enforcement Commission of Zambia has programmes under Institutions of Learning, Workplace and Community to raise awareness on issues of drugs and drug abuse. The Department also provides free counselling services to people with drug use problem.

The first comprehensive nationwide national drug use survey report for Nigeria was launched yesterday. The report provides evidence for policy makers, both in government and outside government working in drug and crime control to inform the strategies and policies on in care access to drug treatment and reduce such habits among Nigerians.

In conclusion, let us adopt strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use.

I would like to commend the efforts of the WACD to chart a path in a conservative context on which member states can implement policies that are centred on Human rights and public health approaches by launching the Model Drug Law for West Africa that can be easily adapted and contextualized across the region and beyond.

In Zambia, the constitution is very clear on issues of drug abuse and trafficking and it is the role of law enforcement agencies to apply the law as described in criminal law. The aim is to deter and punish drug offenses. It draws its sole mandate from the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act Chapter 96 of the Laws of Zambia.

Ailish: Finally, we will have Alex, who will speak about the need to invest in harm reduction services, such as drug checking interventions, needle and syringe programs, and supervised injection facilities without age restrictions, as well as educational material about minimizing risks associated with using drugs, and nightlife harm reduction.

Alex Betsos, CSSDP, Canada

Invest in harm reduction services, such as drug checking interventions, needle and syringe program provision and supervised injection facilities, without age restrictions, educational material about minimizing risks associated with using drugs, and nightlife harm reduction.

Harm reduction services help mitigate responses. Help people who might not access other services. Cofounding of Karmik in Vancouver – goal to go to nightlife events, founded in 2014 – operating with no government funding. Within a year of establishing Karmik, the OD crisis has killed more than 9000 Canadians, mostly due to onset of fentanyl. We saw a need for harm reduction services – we saw events that didn’t provide water, people using money to snort substances. This work is unfunded, and staff made from community of PWUD. To do this, we had to charge events, sometimes we have to do this work pro-bono as events don’t usually turn over profits. Restrictions on licensing lead to night clubs not wanting to support harm reduction services. We have to deal with traumatic experiences of losing members of our community to fentanyl overdoses. Peers are best placed to deliver these services. Overdose prevention sites (OPS) – paper on peer workers being paid less, receiving less benefits. Harm reduction services need to be better funded and paid. OPS and drug checking are important harm reduction initiatives – checking can tell people what’s in their drugs. OPS’s now supported by Canadian governments, but they are peer led. There has never been a death in any services. Hard to directly measure impacts, but thousands of overdoses have been prevented in BC overdose prevention services. Nothing about us without us. Importance of safe supply – is an attempt to allow people who use fentanyl access to heroin so they don’t need to purchase on illicit market. BC Centre on Substance Use looked at compassion …. Limits diversion in other contexts. Need to consider active solutions, we need complex solutions. Far too many deaths, not only in Canada, and most could be prevented by access to adequate harm reduction services. Investing in harm reduction means investing in people. Can’t just set up a peer-based model, add medical professionals and then take away the peers.

Ailish: Thank you all for taking the time to come to our side event today, that is the end of our speakers. Before I open the floor to questions or comments I would like to thank our co-sponsors again and all other organizations involved. Especially SSDP Australia who are co-sponsors of this event but do not have a speaker on the panel. I would also like to thank the UN, UNODC, VNGOC, and CSTF.


90% of men in prison, 10% women – why are women more vulnerable?

Patricia: Women are abandoned by state, picked up by states, have kids, live along – leads them to traffic drugs – imprisoning these people is not useful. Women are the ones imprison for trafficking, men for transportation.

Daniel: Maybe definition of vulnerability is different. The fact that men are easily imprisoned –maybe she sees implications to social structure to women.

Chloe Swarbrick, New Zealand Government Delegation: Solutions are political – its great you’re having these talks, but how are you engaging with politicians in your countries.

Alex: We’re working more and more with parties but it is hard. Never met a drug policy organization that hasn’t wanted to help youth – trying to mobilize our youth base and get them involved. Challenging as general public view is not as strong as climate change issues – a lot of the work we have to do is on changing the narrative. Need to take practical action.

Ailish: a lot more involvement of CS orgs within government circles. We need to shift opinions of people in different age groups.

SSDP engaging with lobby groups in US. Great chance for students to engage.

Stefan: starting to engage with government. They’re reaching out to us and we’re reaching out to them.

Daniel: started with grassroots capacity building and discussions. Next step is to engage – being here at CND is useful to engage with our delegations.

Adverse events in childhood make you more likely to develop a pathological disease – we’ve found that cannabis can reverse a lot of these illnesses. I didn’t start smoking cannabis until I was 18, but before then I developed eating disorders. What about considering giving more access to youth – shouldn’t this be the first resort?

Alex: Answer could be yes, hard to say without the evidence in front of me.

Ailish: We have another side event taking place tomorrow based on the Ask 3 in our Asks document. This will be taking place in Conference Room M6 at 2:20PM. Finally, I would like to advertise our various documents around the room, some of which are on the table in front of you and some are available from us after if you did not manage to get one beforehand. We will not take questions or comments from the floor.

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