The Serbian Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) organized a high-level conference aimed at enhancing the mechanisms to stem the increasing spread of illicit drugs amongst young people, The two-day event (10-11September) was held at the Hofburg palace in Vienna, bringing together practitioners from national administrations, representatives from youth initiatives and civil society organizations (CSOs) as well as international and regional organizations.

The conference’s main objective was to promote collaboration between law enforcement agencies and CSOs in order to identify measures to protect children and young people from the use of illicit drugs. At the event, representatives from UNODC and WHO both discussed approaches to reduce the demand of drugs among young people but never mentioned decriminalization and harm reduction approaches that are supported by both agencies. Being confronted with this issue after their speech, they declared that they did support it but that the scope of this conference did not cover those issues.

Copyright: Murtaza Majeed

Apart from me, representing Youth RISE, the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (EHRN) and Transform Drug Policy Foundation were part of the conference from the reform perspective on drug policies. As a person believing in drug policy reform, it was certainly good and unexceptional that we were invited in such a high-level meeting. Our discussions on reform, decriminalization and the failure of ‘drug-free world’ created some sensitivities among some delegates but most were glad that such strategies were being raised and discussed in an OSCE meeting. Delegates from the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Portugal were there, but no one mentioned their good practices and how decriminalization has worked in those countries. I believe there is much work to be done in order to start the discussion about evidence-based approaches.

What is sure is that if the scope of such meetings is about young people, it requires that young people are actively involved in each dialogue and discussion. What youth think about their situation is fundamental in decision making and creating more youth friendly policies on drugs.

As youth RISE, I am glad that we managed to open discussions about reform at the meeting and will follow up with most of the delegations in order to push for an evidence-based approach to drug use and addiction for the whole society and young people.

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