Written by Rebeca Marques Rocha

The online launch event of the Youth Response to the 2023 World Drug Report was an opportunity to listen first-hand to the key points addressed in the recently released document authored by young people across the world. The response, released on August 21, 2023, is an initiative led by Paradigma Coalition, a global alliance of youth-led organizations committed to driving transformational change in drug policy. This year’s response to the World Drug Report is the second of its kind, following the success of its inaugural 2021 response.

The online event, held on August 28, brought together young advocates and experts who were involved in the making of the youth response. The meeting was moderated by Adrià Cots, Research and Advocacy Officer at the International Drug Policy Consortium. Among the speakers, the launch had presentations from this year’s authors Charity Monareng and Iulia Vatau from SSDP International, as well as Ruby Lawlor and Rebeca Marques Rocha from Youth RISE. The event was also attended by Beatrix Vas, International Working Group Member of Youth RISE and one of the authors of the 2021 Youth Response.

Why make a Youth Response to the World Drug Report? 

The World Drug Report (WDR) is the most important UN publication on drug markets and drug use. The publication is the reference document for the whole international community on the drugs phenomenon, being released every year on the 26 June on World Drug Day. Governments and UN bodies refer to such a document whenever they want to understand current trends and developments in terms of drug use and drug markets globally.

The Youth Response to the WDR delves into crucial aspects of drug policy that impact young people and communities worldwide – which are often overlooked in the WDR analysis. Authored by Charity Monareng, Ruby Lawlor, Iulia Vatau, Rebeca Marques Rocha, Arvy Kumar, Rebeca Calzada, and Jesse Hudspeth, the response offers a comprehensive analysis of the findings evidenced in the WDR and the impacts of drug-related issues and policies on youth. It highlights important gaps in the WDR, bringing a set of recommendations for data collection and future publications.

Launch Event of the Youth Response to the 2023 World Drug Report
Adrià Cots (IDPC) moderated the online event, which also had the participation of Beatrix Vas (Youth RISE’s IWG), who was one of the authors in the first edition of the Youth Response to the WDR in 2021.

The first contribution to a global conversation

In his opening remarks, Adrià highlighted the important qualities of the 2023 Youth Response. “This timely publication is the first contribution to what will be a long global conversation around the World Drug Report”. Underscoring the dynamic mobilization capacity of young advocates, he notes: “No other NGO has had the capacity to produce a response to the report in such a short time at such speed. That speaks very highly of the agility and determination of the youth reform movement.”.

The Youth Response goes beyond the issue of drug use amongst the youth to explore the very different ways in which drug policies impact young people. Urging researchers and policymakers to engage with this document, Adrià says, “[the authors of the Youth Response] have produced evidence-based recommendations. […] governments and policymakers would do very well to read this response in order to better understand some of the aspects of the whole picture that are not included in the WDR”.

The event’s discussed points and highlights

Introducing the history and work of the Paradigma Coalition, Charity Monareng stressed the importance of amplifying and acknowledging the voices of young people in drug policy discussions. “Young people are not really consulted on these processes” pointed out Charity.  “While the World Drug Report highlights the impact of drugs on young people, the Youth Response – and others to come – are not only important but necessary in order to provide the facts and realities that young people experience from the perspectives of young people themselves”.

Beatrix Vas, one of the authors of the first edition of the Youth Response to the World Drug Report, explained the rationale for producing the response as an effort to add to global knowledge with the lived and living experiences of young people. “As young people and young people who use drugs, we do have the anecdotal evidence”, she says. Fear of stigma and retaliation may leave such information inaccessible for traditional research, particularly in contexts where drug use is very harshly criminalized or stigmatized. “As youth-led organizations, we are uniquely positioned to gather this lived experience and present that as evidence”, she concludes. 

“No other NGO has had the capacity to produce a response to the report in such a short time at such speed. That speaks very highly of the agility and determination of the youth reform movement.”.

Adrià Cots (IDPC)

A summary of the response’s highlights was conducted by Rebeca Marques Rocha and Iulia Vatau. They addressed various aspects of drug policy and its impact on young people, shedding light on the often-overlooked dimensions of drug policies and their repercussions for youth. The presentations covered topics such as harm reduction, access to health services, drug education, environmental impacts, mental health, and more. The panellists discussed evidence-based responses to the main arguments of the WDR while discussing the missed opportunities in this year’s publication. At the end, they brought recommendations to address the identified gaps.

Recommendations for future publications of the World Drug Report

At the end of the meeting, Ruby Lawlor emphasized the importance of youth inclusion for accessible harm reduction, condemning the prevalent practices that lead to exclusion and tokenism. She recapped the recommendations listed in the Youth Response, namely:

  • Drug education based on harm reduction, personal development and evidence-based information – avoiding fear-mongering and scare tactics.
  • UN bodies and governments must collaborate with civil society for further data collection and analysis, particularly organizations working with and led by young people.
  • There must be increased scientific evidence gathering that includes Indigenous communities and young people in regard to psychedelic therapy.
  • Take into account regional specificities when assessing the effects of legalisation and prevalence of cannabis use among young people
  • Invest in programming that promotes health literacy
  • Rethink current drug control schedules for better access to Harm Reduction interventions.

A short Q&A followed, giving the space and opportunity for the attendants to pose questions to the speakers.

Launch Event of the Youth Response to the 2023 World Drug Report
Iulia Vatau (SSDP Intl) presents some of the highlights of the Youth Response to the World Drug Report 2023.

A call to action: young drug policy reformists and harm reductionists, unite!

The event was concluded with a call to action to spread the recommendations of the Youth Response. It was also announced the launch of Youth RISE’s Policy Brief for the SDG Summit taking place in September 2023. The document titled “Advancing Youth-Centered Health and Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development” was developed in partnership with UNITE Parliamentarians Network for Global Health and outlines key recommendations and insights that can significantly influence the direction of discussions at the SDG Summit in regard to youth, health, and policy reform.

Lastly, attendants were encouraged to contact SSDP Intl and Youth RISE to obtain support to submit their applications to speak in the CND Thematic Intersessionals, aiming to increase the number of contributions spotlighting young people who use drugs realities, challenges and recommendations.

The recording of the Online Launch Event of the Youth Response to the World Drug Report 2023 is available here.