Caitlin Padgett of YouthRISE spoke this morning at the Demand Reduction Roundtable at the High Level Segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. YouthRISE receives core funding from Harm Reduction International, and is a key strategic partner in our work. The text of the statement is below.
'Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak here. Including young people in these policy forums is crucial to demand reduction policy development.
The statements I am about to give come not only from our organization - they were developed in partnership with the Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS, the World AIDS campaign, Espolea, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the Youth Coalition on Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and Youth RISE. (Collectively represented thousands of youth worldwide)
We all wish to prevent young people from the harms of drugs and drug policy. However, prevention measures are often not enough. Anti-drug campaigns are often no match for the many reasons that young people use drugs. Despite millions of dollars spent on prevention campaigns, children and young people continue to use drugs. Despite even more money spent on supply reduction, young people still have access to drugs. Young people use drugs for many reasons… They use them for fun, to fit in, for survival, to deal with hunger, with trauma, to cope and to alleviate pain. The concept of prevention is lost on the many youth already using drugs. Telling them or forcing them to stop will not work if their life circumstances remain unchanged.
Demand reduction must include harm reduction. Harm reduction is part of a continuum of support services and it is one of many tools available to reducing the demand for drugs, While the debate about harm reduction continues, children and youth were dying for lack of these life saving services. Thousands, if not millions are at risk for HIV and other drug related harms, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, Asia and North America.
Are these children and youth who use drugs still considered our most precious asset, as stated in the Declaration? If so, than we must invest in them as well. We must invest in all aspects of their growth and development, and work to make sure that the most vulnerable are treated with as much care and love than those who have never touched a drug in their lives.
We recommend that drug policy include specific recommendations for young people and take into consideration the four guiding principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Non-discrimination: Removing age-related barriers such as requiring parental consent or denying confidentiality to underage youth, removing age restrictions for accessing harm reduction services such as syringe exchanges and opiate replacements, and providing sexual and reproductive health services to young people, especially young drug users.
Best interest of the child: All drug policies must adhere to international human rights law. This will ensure that drug policies would be required to take into consideration those most vulnerable and in need of support such as young substance users and street-involved youth.
Life, survival and development: Honest, reality-based drug education and prevention services, low threshold and youth-friendly services, access to education and health services, are all essential components of effective drug policy that seeks to ensure the high attainable health for young people using drugs. Make evidence-based and age appropriate drug treatment to be a priority over detention, imprisonment or forced rehabilitation.
Participation: Countries must involve young people who are most affected (including young drugs users and YPLWHIV) in meaningful engagement with drug policy and program development, implementation and evaluation at all levels. Young drug users and young people living with HIV do not forfeit their right to participation. It is our right to be included in the decisions that affect our lives.
We look to the HIV/AIDS movement to see the critical importance of both acknolewdging the critical need for both recognizing the realities of young people and involving them in policy. Young people were not included to too many years, because adults did not want to deal with the reality of young people having sex, and they did not want to talk to young people about what they needed in terms of prevention. And in 2007, young people age 15-24 made up nearly half, 50% of new HIV infections. So we can see that not involving youth does not work.
There are young people here at these meetings. Young people who are incredible advocates, with the most accurate insights into the realities of young people, because they are living those realities. If youth really are our most precious asset, if we are truly committed to demand reduction for young people, than we should be looking to these young people for advice. Yet instead, they have been regarded with suspicion, have been followed by security, and have generally been made to feel unwelcome.
If member states are truly committed to reducing social marginalization, as stated in Article 21 of the declaration, than why don’t we start right here, right now?
Many of you seated here have responsibilities other than drug control. Consider what kind of society the youth in your country are growing up with. Consider how many have safe and affordable housing, how many have access to education opportunities and employment, and to social support services. These are some of the best demand reduction strategies.
Thank you for this opportunity.'