Written by Sara Berenice Monsalvo.

In the framework of the VIII Latin American Conference and XX National Conference on Drug Policy, some members of Youth RISE traveled to Buenos Aires to participate in person in the day of activities that took place in the precincts of the Chamber of Deputies of Argentina on August 24th, 25th and 26th, 2022.

During these days, relevant exponents in the field of drugs and health gathered to discuss the situation of the continent and plan coordinated actions. More than ten panels presented an overview of the urgent needs of the Latin American region for the development of public policies to address the use, regulation and marketing of psychoactive substances. Another important topic that was highlighted during the exchange of knowledge and experiences was the inaccessibility of drug users to health services with a human rights approach.

Furthermore, on Tuesday, August 23rd, regional training workshops for young people were held in the vicinity of the Secretariat of Integral Policies on Drugs of Argentina (SeDroNar). This meeting was co-organized by Intercambios Asociación Civil and Youth RISE. Pablo Cymerman, Jorgelina Di Iorio and Carolina Ahumada (our 4Youth Consortium Project Manager) led introduction of the event and delighted us with a warm dynamic to introduce the guests and present the objectives for the day. Our colleague Humberto Rotondo (Youth RISE, SOMA Project) led the workshop “Access to Justice in Latin America: Tools for the promotion of rights among people who use drugs and key populations”, where legal, institutional, socioeconomic and cultural barriers to access to justice in Latin America were discussed. Members of different civil society associations and non-governmental organizations shared the situation in each of their countries and proposed strategies to strengthen access to information, legal services and comprehensive health services for drug users. Resources, such as digital search engines, were also provided to understand the regional recommendations on drug policy made by the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. It is vitally important to note the scope of this meeting to strengthen ties between different sectors of Latin American civil society, since it fosters an informed social debate with a view to promoting non-punitive policies and proposes the reproduction of this information in pursuit of legal literacy among the population in order to assert their rights.

On the other hand, the second activity was led by Aarón Gordin (PAF! Argentina, Intercambios A.C.), the “Workshop on Harm Reduction and Youth: challenges from a regional approach” introduced us to the striking advances in online harm reduction (or peer counseling). Thus, it was possible to locate some technological tools that serve to approach key populations through digital platforms and social networks.
During CONFEDROGAS, issues such as violence and its different expressions, territorial dispossession, forced crop eradication, as well as other social consequences of the prohibitionist model and the War on Drugs in the region were discussed. Undoubtedly, one of the most valuable roundtables was the one co-organized with Youth RISE entitled “Youth and Drug Policy”. In this meeting moderated by Carolina Ahumada, young activists, public health workers and artists discussed the latest challenges facing drug users.

With our distinguished guests, we were able to draw a series of vital conclusions to promote changes in the conditions of nightlife. For example, we talked about the importance of promoting psychoactive substance analysis projects, such as those proposed by organizations like Échele Cabeza (Colombia) and PAS (Programa de Análisis de Sustancias, Mexico), which offer a non-punitive health project aimed at young people who consume PAS in party contexts. These strategies are strongly positioned as pillars of a model that seeks the decriminalization of young populations and ensures new perspectives in the face of stigma.
In this sense, Omar Tavarez problematized the scarcity of spaces for a group formation where drug users could discuss community resilience and encourage the recognition of pleasure in the Dominican Republic. A very nice moment was the presentation of Santos Vázquez, who under the same thematic line territory-community, shared his experience in implementing a listening center as a space of containment for young people and their families, which is essential to redirect the testimonial narratives and self-perception in key communities.

In addition, among the conclusions, they highlighted the indisputable effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on health institutions’ strategies, as well as on the lives of young people. They highlighted the regional urgency to train health professionals to care for drug users, and thus redirect the search for alternatives for young people in terms of mental health.

Finally, by analyzing the socio-cultural changes that the region has undergone during the last two years, unanimous conclusions were proposed: to consciously use global indicators on drug policy, to guarantee accessibility to health services, and in turn, to decentralize the analysis of mental health; in addition to seeking alternatives to incarceration and using harm reduction services to minimize social exclusion and redirect the pleasure of users. Clearly a consensus in civil society was stated to stimulate projects based on scientific evidence that respond to and address the various problems associated with drugs. With the intention of learning about new harm reduction strategies, highlighting the autonomy of users and encouraging criticism of the barriers in access to justice services, this meeting itself functioned as a platform to mainstream struggles and exchange instrumental tools.