Written by Eliza Kurcevič.

The 26th Harm Reduction International Conference (HR19) took place in Porto, Portugal on April 28-May 1. It’s the biggest harm reduction conference in the world and this year it gathered record number of participants – more than 1200 delegates, from more than 90 countries. This year the conference theme was “People before Politics”, which tried to emphasize that first we need to prioritize people, their health, human rights and dignity, and only after all this – we can speak about politics and its ideologies.

This year, the conference had many spaces and activities for the networking, discussions, including: Community Hub, Gallery, Medical and Harm Reduction services, posters area, workshops, exhibition area, side meetings, site visits to Harm Reduction services, film festival and most important – sessions.

Youth RISE together with YODA and SSDP had a side meeting “Empowering Youth: networking, funding, participating”. This meeting brought together youth activists from around the world to discuss the lack of youth participation in formulating drug policies. What is more, during the meeting three organizations had a possibility to present their activities, projects and also barriers, which they face in their work.

What is more, Youth RISE member Joana Canedo participated in the session “The Kids are Alright: Harm Reduction and Youth”, where she presented “YPWUD and Law Enforcement interactions – drugs are not born in trees or sent to parties with the force of a Jedi”. Joana presented that despite the decriminalization of drugs in Portugal, the number of infractions and arrests increased there and that young people are stigmatized, discriminated and socially excluded, which means, that legalization and regulation are urgently needed to end the above mentioned negative consequences.

Overall, this year, HR19 covered countless topics, which were presented by different stakeholders: community and NGOs members, activists, politicians, scientists and scholars, international organizations representatives, and many more participants.

During the opening ceremony, the mayor of Porto stated, that Porto municipality will support the opening of the mobile consumption rooms. As a keynote speaker, Michelle Bachelet – United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights emphasized, that Member states should rebalannce drug policies towards a public health approach.

On the first day, the workshop “Reagent drug checking as an underground harm reduction practice” was presented by Mitchell Gomez, who is an Executive director of Dance Safe. Mitchell spoken about reagent tests and the importance to use it during festivals, events. While we should try to change and advocate for laws allowing laboratory analysis of substances in our countries, we cannot wait for the changes and need to save lives of the people through the basic reagent checking. In their work, Dance Safe is also distributing free water, non-biased drug education, earplugs, condoms and appropriate harm reduction messaging. What is more, this year for the first time, Dance Safe were distributing Narcan, for the overdose prevention.

The session “Fast-track stimulants” brought a discussion on the harm reduction services for the stimulant users. Rafaela Rigoni presented the set of the best harm reduction practices for people who use stimulants. You can find more information on this here.

After, Raquel Rebelo (from Portugal), Ernesto Cortes (Costa Rica) and Murtaza Majeed (Afghanistan) presented national harm reduction approaches for the stimulants users, which include: crack pipes distribution in Porto, kits for safer use (including lip balm, etc.) distribution in Latin America countries, mobile drop-in centre services in Afghanistan. One of the key issues they emphasized was the lack of funding for the harm reduction services. For example in Afghanistan, approximately 1000 people are arriving to the mobile drop-in center, but there is only capacity for 25 people to get access to harm reduction services. This shows a very extreme funding situation, which is already leading to devastating health issues.

Another session on drug checking “Drug checking: past, present and future innovations” presented existing practices in different regions of the world.  Netherlands, France, Canada, Ukraine and Colombia showed how they started and developed drug checking in their countries and which barriers they faced or are facing in providing drug checking. Most of the speakers expressed great concern at the current dangers related to ecstacy or MDMA use.

On the last day of the conference the session “Decriminalization in Action” showed the importance of rethink the drug policies. Portuguese colleagues (Rui Combra Morais and Marta Pinto) showed that even though the Portuguese decriminalization model brought many good changes into the country, it still needs to be improved and discussion about the regulation should be started. Sandy Mteirek from Lebanon presented the Lebanese case: since 1998 treatment as an alternative to prosecution has been possible, but usually police decide not to use this route. Instead, it is generally only when the case reaches the courts that the case is potentially referred to treatment. In 2018 the bill on legalization of cannabis was presented to the society. But the bill itself “legalizes” cannabis cultivation only for export. So it means, that Lebanese people can grow the cannabis for other states, but not for their own use. Scott Bernstein from Canada presented the Regulation project in Canada, organized by 6 Canadian organizations. Scott noted, that drug policy models often miss the “consumer preference”, which is part of the public health approach.

One more session “Innovative Harm Reduction Approaches” showed new approaches of harm reduction, which we can use to reach people through the different ways: by post (HaRePo project in France), through the darknet (Israel, Russia), through the online counselling and during music festivals (Ukraine).

Last, but really not least – Feminist space for women who use drugs was created and organized by Metzineres (Spain) and C.A.S.O. women, together with #Narcofeminists and #Femdrug movements. During all the conference the safe space for women and non-conforming gender people who use drugs was open within an intersectional feminist perspective.

Reposted with permission from Students for Sensible Deug Policy:

Written by Orsi Feher.

A new day dawned at the UN in Vienna with a new addition from the SSDP family to the board of the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs (VNGOC). Founder of SSDP Australia and current chair of the board, Penny Hill, has been elected to serve as Deputy Secretary joining SSDP International’s Europe Global Fellow, Orsi Fehér ’16, in our efforts to increase the visibility of youth in the global drug policy discussion.

While some of us were in informal dialogues in the morning, the plenary session proceeded to discuss the agenda item on the Implementation of the Political Declaration and Plan of Action of 2009 and the follow up to UNGASS 2016. The debate didn’t really see anything new or exciting emerge until our very own Marisa Morales ‘15, SSDP’s Latin America Global Fellow, took the floor for her fiery intervention. Marisa set the scene by acknowledging the unique situation young people face when it comes to drug-related issues and went on to explain that the harm caused by drug prohibition is worse than the harm caused by drugs themselves. She talked about how harm reduction measures should be embraced by Member States so access to evidence-based education and health services without fear of punishment can create a culture of safety around drug use. She then brought into context how such a culture is necessary for member states and UN agencies to successfully implement the ideas discussed in the UNGASS outcome document. She introduced the three asks of the Paradigma coalition and ended her statement by inviting everyone to our youth side event to get more familiar with the work of Paradigma members and its relevancy to global drug policy processes.

The informal dialogue was organized by the VNGOC to give an opportunity for NGOs to engage with the UNODC and the INCB and to their credit, besides the prepared Q&A, they made time to respond to spontaneous questions. The first session with Mr. Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, was about as low energy as one would expect a discussion with a 71-year-old Russian diplomat about drugs. He boasted the Listen First project that is aimed at the “most precious asset” of humanity, children, and youth, and which some of our SSDPers were not welcome to contribute to. The only relevant moment to highlight is the question from our friends at ICEERS about indigenous peoples, especially women, who have been historically vulnerable to drug control policies. The answer of Mr. Fedotov lacked any compassion or actual content, to be honest, but he did command NGOs working on supporting these communities and stressed the importance of Bangkok and Nelson Mandela rules and how they work towards promoting these among member states.

The INCB dialogue was slightly more interesting, especially against the backdrop of the escalated discussion about the board’s role in international drug policy with member states chiming in sternly. Mr. Sumyai took us on a ride; the president has talked about the accusations of overstepping their treaty mandate and how they need to be careful respecting where the WHO comes in, yet went on to cast judgment on the mode of administration when it comes to Cannabis as to what qualifies as medical and what does not. Then he responded to a question about improving women’s access to treatment with a very patriarchal sentiment about women’s main task in life being the taking care of families. To our delight, he also served some info that will keep Paradigma busy this year: INCB announced their plans to continue to host civil society hearings in 2019 and their particular interest in youth organizations, especially on the grassroots level. We know through unofficial channels that they were very impressed with SSDP representative Elli Jenner from Austria at their last hearing which dealt with the issue of Cannabis and was the first event of its kind for decades.

After lunch, we made our way to our first side event this week titled Global Youth Perspectives on Shifting Drug Policies which featured Ailish Brennan ’18 from Youth RISE & University College Dublin SSDP as moderator, Patricia Chulver ’17 from SSDP Bolivia, Stefan Pejic from ReGeneration in Serbia, Daniel Nii Ankrah from YouthRise in Ghana, and Alex Betsos from CSSDP as speakers. The panelists talked about a wide range of issues that relate to the shifting of drug policies towards public health and human rights-based approaches; from the review of punitive laws and aligning supply reduction efforts with human rights to harm reduction and their personal experiences in working with affected populations. The room was so packed that at one point, Alex had to manage the crowd to avoid the harms of less-than-sufficient ventilation at the venue. Following the panel, the audience took the opportunity to ask questions and highlight their experiences relating to those on the panel resulting in a lively conversation that went well beyond the usual time limits of these events, signifying a highly successful side event – business as usual, huh?

In less interesting news, the discussion on inter-agency cooperation saw member states boasting their regional leadership and the EU playing good cop, pushing for the full implementation of the UNGASS outcome document and increased coordination among entities and consultations with NGOs. Turkey, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia, Ukraine, Iceland, Moldova, Armenia, San Marino, and Georgia have also lined up behind this joint European statement.

After the commission and our youth delegation concluded our work for the day, we reunited at Vienna’s Sigmund Freud University where the local SSDP chapter organized an event on Psychedelic Healing. It was an emotional and surprisingly interactive session with Ismail L Ali ’15, policy advisor of MAPS and chair of SSDP’S board of directors, moderating a discussion with Keren Tzarfaty, Ph.D.,M.F.T., co-founder of the Hakomi Institute of Israel and MAPS Trainer, and Paula Graciela Kahn, MAPS’s migrant justice advocate.

Written by Ailish Brennan

The second day of the 62nd Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs may have been lighter in content in the form of interesting and progressive side events but was certainly not without noteworthy occurrences. As the two major youth-led drug policy reform side events drew closer, with both taking place at the 2:20PM time slot on Wednesday and Thursday respectively, people’s minds were at times focussed elsewhere.


In the early morning slot, Harm Reduction International, in conjunction with a number of government delegations and Amnesty International, organized a side event entitled “The death penalty for drug related offence: The impact on women and vulnerable groups”. The event was attended by key delegates from the respective governments, including Great Britain, and Paradigma ally Chloe Swarbrick of New Zealand.


It is truly inspiring to see such an event sponsored and attended by high level policy makers, especially with the focus on the impact on the gendered aspect of the death penalty and the impact on marginalized groups. These voices are often systematically excluded at these events.


The event placed a focus on the 35 countries which retain the death penalty for drug offences, directly contravening international law. The focus throughout remained on how people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the enforcement of the death penalty. Foreign nationals, women, people from lower-socio economic backgrounds, people of colour, as well as the people at the intersection of some or all of these subgroups, are most likely to be affected by the use of the death penalty. The most disadvantaged members of our society are significantly less likely to be given a fair trial due to racial prejudices, or their inability to speak the local language of the country in which they have been arrested.


With the prevalence of foreign nationals being sentenced to the death penalty, eleven foreign nationals have been executed this year already in Saudi Arabia, including three on New Years Day. In Malaysia meanwhile, foreign nationals are half as likely to have their sentence revised down from the death penalty as Malaysians. It is hard to imagine that the sentencing in Saudi Arabia was much more fair or transparent than the bias seen in Malaysian courts.


Other more youth-based side events were also taking place throughout the day, although these were somewhat less progressive. The Government of Pakistan organized a side event on their incredibly ground-breaking plan to implement education programs in schools promoting abstinence from drugs. This side event was, thankfully, very poorly attended, mostly by other drug free world focussed organizations and delegations. I would like to hope that this is because even the majority of prohibitionists can see the futility in further expanding the implementation of these programs in their current form.


In the final side event slot of the day an event was organized by the government of Great Britain, attempting to discuss their tackling of the recent surge in violent knife crimes, and how these are related to drug use. They decided to conflate the increased use of crack cocaine with the upsurge in knife crimes. However, when pressed about whether they had conducted research into the well-documented effects austerity has had on social problems in the United Kingdom, they were unable to say they had because it is “easier” to conduct the research they had decided to do.


On top of this question about austerity, Great Britain was thankfully pestered by a number of progressive civil society organizations on their presentations. The above question was asked by myself, and was accompanied by Eva Cesarova, also of Youth RISE, enquiring about whether they have considered decriminalising drugs as a means of impacting the level of violent crime associated with drugs. On top of this, Clare Mawditt of the Women’s Harm Reduction International Network, pointed them towards recent reports indicating the benefits of stimulant legalisation and regulation. Both of these questions were met with varying degrees of silence.


In the Plenary throughout the early parts of the day, some of the most mundane yet efficient events at CND occurred, with numerous fentanyl and cannabinoid derivatives being scheduled. The speed with which the scheduling of most substances occurs is breathtaking relative to the rest of the events if CND. I never would have guessed that CND delegates had the ability to be productive! The one piece of note was the postponement of the decision on scheduling of cannabis until March 2020, when delegations will have had enough time to consider such a potentially radical decision. Truthfully this amounts to little more than kicking the can down the road, and it remains to be seen how much further it can be delayed.


While today, as with much of CND, has been filled with negativity throughout the main sessions of the day, tucked away in a quiet corner, away from the main diplomacy, the Vienna NGO Committee held their annual voting for board members. In a fantastic win for the wider drug policy reform movement, Jamie Bridge of IDPC was elected to Chairperson and Penny Hill, currently of Harm Reduction Australia and formerly of Youth RISE and SSDP Australia, was elected as Deputy Secretary! It is wonderful to see headway being made in the non-governmental sections of CND at the very least.


It is results like this that begin to show the true scale to which the wider drug policy control system is falling behind civil society in terms of following evidence, health, and human rights based approaches.

Posted with permission from SSDP:

Written by Jake Agliata

SSDP staff and members are in Vienna this week with our youth allies in CSSDP, SSDP Australia, Youth Rise, and YODA attending the 62nd Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting (“CND”). Yesterday, we shared an update from last week’s High-Level Ministerial Segment. Today, SSDP’s International Program Manager, Jake Agliata ’11, summarizes the key events which took place during the first day of CND. For more details about everything that is discussed this week, check out the CND Blog.

With the High-Level Ministerial Segment (HLMS) in the rearview mirror, it was business as usual at the United Nations on Monday as the 62nd Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting kicked off in Vienna. It’s hard to say how much the HLMS will have an impact on this week’s proceedings. On one hand, the segment was mostly a procedural repeat of things which we already knew and statements which were planned weeks in advance. On the other hand, the fractured consensus of the global drug control system was on full display as it becomes more and more clear how much disagreement there is between member states regarding approaches to drug policy. We saw both of these factors come into play on Monday.

Before the start of the week, SSDP and our global youth allies in the Paradigma coalition held a strategy session on Saturday to discuss our future as a coalition, plans for the week, and for an exciting meeting with New Zealand MP Chlöe Swarbrick. Paradigma was formed in 2017 after a global youth convening in Bangkok and has since existed as an informal coalition among the youth-led organizations who attend CND each year advocating for the youth voice in global drug policy. Seeking to refine what the coalition is and what it does, we spent some time getting organized and drafting some concrete action items to improve the efficiency of our work. Afterward, we discussed some strategies for getting our Global Youth Asks document into the hands of country delegations this week and included in the overall conversation. Our goal is to promote the document during side events, drop hard copies off all over the UN, and use our existing contacts in country delegations to help us deliver our asks to those who may be interested in hearing what a diverse group of young people have to say about global drug policy. The meeting with Chlöe was perhaps the highlight of Saturday, as she answered many of our questions regarding her efforts to transform drug policy in New Zealand. Chlöe is only 24 years old and had a lot of insights to offer our group about how we can best leverage our platform as impacted young people to create change at the international level. We were thrilled to have such a promising young politician join us for an incredible discussion.

Monday started off with a stark reminder that although civil society may be welcome in the United Nations, we still have to behave and play by the rules or risk being put in a time out. Following last week’s spontaneous die-in at the Philippines booth protesting their delegation’s sugar coating of Duterte’s violent drug crackdown as demand reduction measures, UN security was on high alert for other shenanigans which may upset the comfortable bubble of the UN. In the morning, a large group of civil society members met outside the main UN building to take a photo for the Support Don’t Punish campaign. UN security immediately shut it down because participants were holding up Support Don’t Punish signs, claiming no one was allowed to display any signs with unapproved messaging at the UN. This action was completely unrelated to the Philippines protest on Saturday and could hardly be considered disruptive, considering it was just a group of people taking a photo outside the UN like hundreds of people do every week. If displaying a sign with a message as simple and agreeable as “Support Don’t Punish” really violates UN protocols, the UNODC may need to reevaluate their policies.

Moving on to the actual proceedings, most of the day’s discussion in the Plenary room concerned agenda item 9: implementation of the international drug control treaties, particularly regular reviews of scheduling. The two most notable discussions concerned the possible scheduling of tramadol and the new recommendations by the WHO and INCB on cannabis. The WHO recommended Tramadol, a synthetic opioid pain medication, not be scheduled for now, but put under surveillance. China took exception to the WHO’s recommendation and stated their support for scheduling tramadol under the international treaty framework. Egypt and Cameroon supported China’s comments, noting their own national efforts to ban Tramadol within their own borders. Sudan, meanwhile, concurred with the WHO’s recommendation of putting it on surveillance but holding off on scheduling. Regarding cannabis, the INCB noted concern with the potential of poorly regulated cannabis programs to cause harm on communities and lead to an increase in non-medical use among young people. They also stated their position that regulation of cannabis for recreational purposes is in violation of the drug control treaties, subtly calling out Canada. China again strongly concurred with this point and reiterated their support for keeping cannabis in the highest level of scheduling, despite recent reviews by the WHO and recommendations to consider rescheduling. Indonesia and Japan agreed with China, stating their belief that cannabis has adverse effects on health and development. Sudan took it a step further and claimed the new trend of regulating cannabis is behind 80% of crimes related to drug abuse. Not surprisingly, they offered no evidence to support this claim. On the other side, Switzerland, Denmark, and the Netherlands expressed support for further access to research into cannabis as a medicine and showed support for the WHO’s recommendations. Notably, South Korea stated their growing support for medical cannabis amidst growing calls to consider its use among their citizens.

In the Committee of the Whole, two resolutions were discussed. The first was introduced by Australia and concerned enhancing forensic detection capability for synthetic drugs through international cooperation. While most of the conversation was around small changes in language, one notable discussion concerned the inclusion of the word stigmatization in the resolution. Always a hot topic at CND, a resolution recognizing stigmatization as a barrier to treatment was passed at last year’s CND amidst a highly controversial debate. Pakistan, Iran, and Russia said that stigma has no place in this resolution or debate, while Japan stated they were unclear about what stigma even meant in this context despite last year’s resolution. Canada and the United States supported Australia with keeping stigmatization in the resolution, though no consensus was reached before the debate moved on. The second resolution debated was introduced by Germany, Peru, and Thailand concerning the promotion of alternative development as a development-oriented drug control strategy. A lot of this discussion was based around realigning the goals of the drug control regime with those of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. There was some debate between the US and Peru around whether the language of the UNGASS outcome document or the HLMS outcome document should be used in the resolution as a baseline for the recommendations of the drug control regime. Most of this discussion was more of a political debate than anything, as noted by Canada late in the discussions. Most notably, countries argued over a line stating the goal of a “society free of drug abuse.” No clear consensus was made on this issue and the discussion was tabled for the next day.

There were a number of interesting side events throughout the day, but one which stood out was called “Addressing Stigma: Continuing the Discussion.” Hosted by Canada, Uruguay, Estonia, and Norway, this event was a follow up from a side event last year discussing stigma as a primary barrier to public health interventions for people who use drugs. Each host country discussed efforts underway in their home jurisdictions to reduce stigmatization of people who use drugs in healthcare services, the media, law enforcement, and the general public. Notably, Uruguay discussed how a central focus of their cannabis regulation law is training teachers and educators how to approach the topic of cannabis use without naming or shaming young people who are curious about the drug. It was refreshing to see the room packed for the event, and although there was not much time for discussion afterward, panelists invited everyone to keep the conversation about stigma alive and well throughout the week.

Overall, it was a slow but nevertheless eventful start to CND. We are eager to kick up our activity levels throughout the week by making an intervention regarding the implementation of the UNGASS outcome document and participating in two side events on Wednesday and Thursday. Stay tuned for more updates from Vienna!

Written by Eva Césarová

A side event organised by the Law Enforcement Action Partnership and the Centre for Law Enforcement and Public Health called “Police Statement of Support for Drug Policy Reform” introduced the perspective of experienced policemen who through their work understood the harsh consequences of the current drug policy system. Speakers at the panel were Peter Muyshondt, Neil Woods, Suzanne Sharkley, and Ron Hogg.


The representatives called for acceptance of harm reduction, decriminalization and regulation. They pointed out the constant increase of drug use, increase of the amount of black market money (“multi-billion business”)  and also the increasing level of violence related to the war on drugs – the main factors that our current drug policy is actually supporting instead of helping to decrease them.


Among other mentioned proposals, the statements were supporting of substance analysis programs, introduction & spreading of naloxone among police officers and also full decriminalization of people who use drugs.


“The only people who are actually regulating the black market are the organised crime groups –  setting up the prices, the level of quality etc…”


The Police Statement of Support for Drug Policy Reform was presented by Neil Woods who also stated that: “With current policies we are making the drug lords (gangsters) really happy.”


It was also discussed that the repressive policies implemented have absolutely no impact and in fact are causing mental health problems to the police officers who are conscious about the negative aspects of the policies.


Peter Muyshondt, who is a regional chief of police in Belgium and who lost a brother on heroin overdose, pointed out the difference in opinions and recommendations from people who have had personal experience in viewing the harm of the war on drugs when compared to police officers and policy makers who view it as just another part of their job. He also stated that “The position of drug in the hands of criminals makes them even more dangerous.” Isn’t it time to change that?

You can watch the whole session online here.

CND and the Young Reform People

It is no secret, that no revolution happened in the High Level Ministerial Segment but Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 2019 will be a new chapter for reform-minded youth movements: we are visible and we act together! Youth organisations started CND 2019 with presenting the youth perspective at HLMS side event, organising an organisational meeting and performing a flashmob. And two joint side events to follow this week!

Youth representative in the Civil Society Task Force, the international coordinator of Youth RISE, presented the organisations position at the HLMS side event organised by the Norwegian government (“A health-centred approach to drug dependence, a multi-factorial health disorder”). She urged the delegates to waste no more time and implement evidence-based prevention, harm reduction and treatment. She ended her speech with emphasis on pragmatic decisions: “And finally, be wise. Fight your own personal distaste for those ill with addiction, fight your anger, fight your fear of political opposition, fight your own indecisiveness. Be wise and work for lives and health of your children by providing them with as many means to overcome their illness as possible”.

On Saturday, youth organisations came together for an orientation meeting. SSDP, along with SSDP Australia and Canadian SSDP, as well as YODA and Youth RISE discussed the dissemination of Youth ASKS (a youth statement, jointly developed specifically for CND), upcoming side events and possibilities for future concerted action. Chlöe Swarbrick, a young member of parliament from New Zealand, came to share her experience with youth activists.

A flashmob was organised on Friday. People laid on the floor in front of the Philippines stand in the Rotunda, to protest the extra-judicial killings of people who use drugs in Philippines as well as elsewhere in Asia. The flashmob attracted the security’s attention as protests are not allowed in the UN. Could Philippines have expected to come to the UN, glorify their horrific war and not provoke any backlash by their contemptuous actions? Naïve, naïve.

The preparation for our side events is almost complete, with one side event on Wednesday and one side event on Thursday, both at the 2:20 PM slot. The side events, based on Ask 2 and Ask 3 of the Paradigma Coalition’s Asks document, based around upholding public health and human rights based approaches to drug policy, and the concept of leaving no one behind in their discussions at CND, by including both youth-led organizations and key affected populations. The Asks document will be available throughout the week at CND.

Written by Morgana Daniele

While the Philippines proceed with extrajudicial killings of people who use drugs, youth activists continue to protest against these atrocities. We, the youth organizations, remonstrate by lying on the floor of the Rotunda – the UN exhibition space – where this year, the Philippines occupy a space where they display posters promoting their brutal and violent approach to the War on Drugs. Welcome to the 2019 Commission on Narcotic Drugs Ministerial Segment.

The UN is a symbol of humanity’s progress, where learning to solve problems and opinion differences can be achieved without waging war. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs is an event which embodies this progress, where the costs of this evolution can be felt almost physically. The costs are represented by President Duterte’s posters in the headquarters of the UN, the very institution which has expressed its “deep concern” over the genocide of people who use drugs in the Philippines. Differences in opinion are illustrated by the different policies and views on drugs by countries such as the Philippines and Canada. The stark differences between the approaches of these two countries while they still maintain their attempts to achieve a consensus gives an insight into how slow the progress tends to be at the UN. That is before even considering the agendas of the many other countries attempting to influence the drug policy control system.

The second and final day of the Ministerial Segment has concluded. So, what has changed after the 193 delegates have delivered their speeches and attended numerous round tables and side events? To evaluate the level of progress would require analysis of all the speeches of delegates over a span of at least a decade. This analysis is beyond the scope of this text. However, we can share some observations.

All countries use buzz words in their speeches. For example, some phrases used by almost all countries to define their approach included “evidence-based”, “effective” and “health-centred”. Whereas their outcomes and results were commonly referred to as “measured” and “evaluated”. Taking off the diplomatic mask, two opposing approaches can be identified. Firstly, the fear of cracks appearing in the consolidated (but outdated) approach. Secondly, securing the right to individualism (whether in direction of brutality or liberalism).

The position of Russia and Singapore demonstrate the fear countries have of cracks appearing in the approach. The speeches of these countries were full of words representing the idealistic view of a drug-free world (“what world do we want? One where people die of drug overdose? Or one free of drugs, where we all thrive?”), as well as focusing on war (“fight”, “win”, “defeat”, “war on drugs”, “war on narcotic evil/tyranny”, “getting rid of this plague”), demonization of drugs (“narcotic hell”, “evil”, “tyranny”, “drugs destroy lives”, “prevention saves from pain”), and control (“implement tough laws”, “keep drugs away”, “it is now a crime in Singapore to allow young people to use”, “it is now a crime to introduce a trafficker to another person”). These countries are clearly in favour of outdated conventions (“conventions must stay as engraved in stone”, “multilateralism is necessary”, “problems cannot be solved unilaterally”, “established consensus”, “we must not waver or lose time renegotiating”, “act within conventions”, “collectively”).

The approach of Vietnam and Bolivia demonstrates the shift in focus to the sovereignty of countries policies. The language that was used included “non-interference”, “sovereignty”, “policies must correspond to the domestic circumstances”, “the drug laws were imposed by the U.S.”, “we decided to develop our own model” and “true, dignified, sovereign manner of drug policy”. However, the approaches that underpin the desire for sovereignty can vary considerably, and this sovereignty is not always a positive thing. While Bolivia comes to CND annually to present their success achieved through coca leaf regulation, which was implemented through a temporary breakaway from international treaties, Vietnam refers to “drug-free Asia”, “harm reduction through law enforcement” and “drug-free region”. The latter position becomes problematic when followed by language such as “tough laws”, “crime”, “abusers” and “rehab-strengthening with implementation of a post-release support and supervision”, used by other Asian countries.

Considering the approaches outlined above, noticeable regional differences remain: i) South America rejects the devastating policies of war on drugs; ii) Asia keeps following the control and violence path, iii) many Western countries talk about a health-centred approach; and iv) Africa seems to be at the crossroads between the two approaches.

Taken together, there were many positives from the 2019 CND Ministerial Segment, which include: i) Civil Society firmly maintaining their position as an equal partner by giving an opening speech and participating in multiple side events; Youth RISE International Coordinator presenting at the side event organised by the Norwegian government; and iii) the director of the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) speaking in the panel launching UNAIDS international guidelines on human rights and drug policy. These positives illustrate how activists continue to fly the flags high. Let’s hope that humanity remains determined to progress.

Reposted with permission from CSSDP:

Written by Alex Betsos.

In 2009, The United Nations adopted what is informally called “The 2009 Political Declaration”, or more formally, “the Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem”. 2019 was the date that the UN agreed they would re-examine the declaration, evaluate its effects, its impacts, and member states success in achieving the goals that they had set out.

By most measures, the goals of supply and demand reduction have largely been a failure, and while member states at the UN have passed a new resolution, outlining further goals for the UN, and while this document has been created by consensus, it’s pretty clear to everyone on the ground that no such consensus exists between member states. Some member states continue to support punitive actions, whereas other support a more health-oriented approach. Even the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime – one of the body’s responsible for enforcing the treaties, has now called for decriminalization.

This lack of consensus has been felt on the ground all day. The opening ceremony of the High-Level Ministerial Segment highlighted all of the good work that has occurred in the last 10 years. With pictures and videos of families, smiling and happy, one could almost be forgiven for forgetting that in the Philippines extra-judicial killings have been supported by the government, or that cocaine production has increased in Latin America – despite US/UN backed efforts to eradicate coca – or even that Canada and the US are in the worst overdose crises of their histories.

In terms of successes in the document of the HLM all that exists is this:

We acknowledge that tangible progress has been achieved in the implementation of the commitments made over the past decade in addressing and countering the world drug problem, including with regard to an improved understanding of the problem, the development, elaboration and implementation of national strategies, the enhanced sharing of information, and the enhanced capacity of national competent authorities;

The tangible progress is in their ability to work together.

What is always strange about events like the HLM is that they are often about political goals that are often unrelated to drugs. In a surprising turn of events, a large number of member state delegates walked out of the room during the speech of the member from Venezuela. While the Venezuelan member continued to argue against US involvement in the region in relation to drugs, it was clear to everyone that events here, and even the constant referencing of Maduro, were more so about the events in Venezuela than they were about drugs.

In terms of Canadian issues, it has been clear that several member states have targeted their comments at Canada. With cannabis legalization in full swing, countries like Russia have argued that Canada should not be allowed to attend, and many countries have made comments that sound as if they imagine that Canada has descended into a Hobbesian anarchy since the legalization of cannabis. Canada has fired back,  with messages that have stayed relatively on point with the consensus of other member states that share similar values (known as “friendlies”); namely that they oppose the continued use of the death penalty for people who have committed non-violent drug offences (possibly also a nod to the ongoing situation with Huawei, and the Canadian citizen being threatened with the death penalty), and the use by some member states of extrajudicial killings (ie the Philippines). Canada’s main address to the UN will be tomorrow, and we will see if it includes anything further that is substantive.

“You call each other junkies, so why can’t we adopt the jargon?” our Youth RISE adventures in the 4th Law Enforcement and Public Health Conference

“Aren‘t these simply cases of bad police practice that you have just presented?“ asks an audience member at the 4th Law Enforcement and Public Health conference after the Youth RISE International Coordinator speaks about encounters among police and young people who use drugs from across the world. As the question implies, were we presenting rare, dramatic stories of police harassment and use of violence and intimidation? Unfortunately, no. In many regions of the world where Youth RISE continues to work, frequent police brutality towards young people who use drugs continues to be reported: Pakistan, Indonesia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Georgia, Nepal, Ghana, Zimbabwe… you name it!

Youth RISE took part in the conference with two tasks on mind: to consult stakeholders, most of them police, on the guidelines we are currently developing (Guidelines for police on working with young people who use drugs) and get their feedback, and to lead a session on Harm reduction services for young people who use drugs and the role of law enforcement. Neither of these turned out to be easy.

Developing global guidelines means reflecting a wide scale of needs and an even wider one of cultural differences. The “ police should work professionally and ethically“ guideline might be classified as a “common sense“ by some countries, while others may ask to indicate things in a “clearer manner”, including such points as “Police should not use physical force when it is not necessary“. Avoiding age profiling in stop and search practices may be seen as implied in the statement about the professional work of police, whereas other stakeholders may express their wish for it to be a separate point in the guideline. “So how do we make it useful to everyone? What are our next steps to have these guidelines adopted?” these questions were the ones to puzzle us as we collected feedback from 100 stakeholders in the room.

The conference was not attended by many representatives of the community of people who use drugs and Youth RISE remained the only community organisation to hold a session. We talked about police violence towards people who use drugs in Pakistan, the use of young people who use drugs by police as tools to extort money from the youngsters’ families in Indonesia, about widespread intimidation in police practices and age profiling in Lithuania and the rest of Eastern Europe and other problems in many other countries across the globe. We touched upon harms on youth caused by high visibility policing (such as sniffer dogs) and the need of trauma informed policing. We tried to not only stick to voicing problems of young people who use drugs but review the possibilities of change and the current use of good practices building a better understanding among young people. Although these were not abundant and pessimism prevailed, the messages turned to be invaluable to the conference as a whole: our sessions balanced out some overly Belarus-dictator-like presentations from police themselves, declaring in most self-confident tone of a “Malborough” commercial how great everything back home in their states was and no problems ever existed.

Youth RISE may also have been the only ones to face recommendations to “treat” drug use among spoiled young people who use drugs by the employment of community service, explanations of age profiling as “means to ensure young peoples’ who use drugs own safety “ and arguments in defence of the inadequate language used by police “because you call each other junkies, so why can’t we adopt the jargon?”. Each and every time we learn and can be better prepared to counter the misconceptions, myths and stigmatising views. Every time we have an opportunity to provide food for thought to those defending prohibition.

Having returned from Toronto and looking back we can say, that participation in the 4th Law Enforcement and Public Health conference was immensely valuable to Youth RISE. This was a unique and incredibly enriching opportunity to see the situation form another, opposite side of barricades, to feel that not all police officers are villains, and to say that not all young people who use drugs are spoiled little f*ckers. Cooperation can really be achieved!

The courtesy of Jurek Badman

Drug policies of the 21st century remain focused on repressive approaches in most of the world’s countries. This can make it harder, if not impossible, to progressively intervene regarding psychoactive substance use, preventing possible benefits to public health. Results of more than half a century of repressive (although slightly milder currently in the Czech Republic) policies do not show themselves to be effective. In fact, it’s the opposite. Experts specializing in harm reduction have been calling for more liberal policies for years. Combined with access to verified information and a unified prevention system, they believe such policies would lead to general reduction of problems associated with substances classified as psychoactive – these include the criminalization of users and of possession, substance impurities, and a lack of available harm reduction services. Trust in the state apparatus regarding this issue allows the users to behave responsibly, consult their use and not endanger themselves or others with risky behavior.

If we take a rational look at the topic, we need to admit that there are people around us who use mind-altering substances. These people use them despite the illegality or possible negative impact on their mental or physical health. The “products” they are using are non regulated, black market “goods” very often “labeled” as something it actually is not. The substances’ potential negative effects are not the only way in which the users can harm themselves. Black market psychoactives are not subject to any regulations and are often made with the use of amateur processes and equipment. It comes as no surprise that these products often contain not only the active ingredient itself, but also contain other admixtures, fillers or left-over chemicals needed for production. These can often have worse effects on human health than the actual psychoactive substance. In some cases, application of such undesirable elements might have fatal consequences. Replacing one substance with another can also be dangerous – with the devastating fentanyl epidemic in the US being living proof. Substance analysis programs give an opportunity to take responsibility for own actions in regards of at least knowing what you are using. 

Ask yourself, would you drink beer from a bottle without a label? Would you take the risk of, say, methanol being in there?

Samples from the “on set testing” / The courtesy of Jurek Badman

Drug Czeching 

In the Czech Republic legal issues forced the closure of the substance analysis program almost ten years ago. Currently, the question of potential support of such programs had been brought up by the National Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drugs Addiction. Inspired by good practice from abroad, based on evidence, government buddies are discussing (behind the closed doors) how to possibly implement this approach into our pedantic system?

The Youth RISE Czech team had decided to call for a public forum/discussion on the International Day of Drug Abuse (26.6. 2018), and the Support. Don’t Punish campaign, so this topic could be openly discussed in a safe and not conflicted space. The invitation was accepted by the head of National Monitoring Centre MUDr. Viktor Mravčík, head of the National Anti-drug Central Mgr. Jakub Frydrych, head of the 3rd Faculty of Medicine, pharm. Magdalena Šustková, drug policy/harm reduction consultant of the municipality in Brno Mgr. Jakub Černý and two foreign guests pharmacologist from Germany pharm. Tibor Harrach and drug policy activist and Youth RISE Mexico coordinator Brun González.

The public forum called “Drug Czeching“, aimed to introduce the aforementioned topics to the greater public. We believed that the time had come to address this topic and give space to experts and people with various perspectives to discuss it publicly.

The main question was clear: Can we, together, find a way to safely and implement approaches which had been proven effective abroad already?

The whole discussion was recorded and soon will be available to your own consideration.