As part of its recently concluded 125th Session in May 2019, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) invited civil society to a special ‘hearing’ on the topic of young people and drugs – which will be the thematic focus for the Board’s 2019 Annual Report.

Expanding on the first ever civil society hearing in May 2018 (on the topic of cannabis), the Board invited the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs (VNGOC) to select civil society speakers from all around the world through an open call. Despite the relatively short application period of around two weeks, the VNGOC received a total of 35 applications from 22 countries – nearly a third of whom were aged under 30. After careful review, the VNGOC selected a panel of eight representatives to present either in person or by video submission, including four members of the IDPC network:

  1. Paul Kogi Mburu, Soberlife Mentorship Society (Kenya): “The Social, Cultural and Economic Gap as a Trigger to Drug Abuse among Young People in Kenya.”
  2. Anna Quigley, Citywide (Ireland): “The Drug Economy and Youth Interventions: Findings from exploratory research on working with young people involved in the illegal drugs trade.”
  3. Rogers Kasirye, Uganda Youth Development Link: “Involvement of young people as change agents in substance use prevention.”
  4. Mediha Kovacevic, Association Proslavi Oporavak (Bosnia & Herzegovina): “The importance of early interventions for young people with drug related problems.”
  5. Jorge Herrera Valderrábano, Instituto RIA (Mexico): “Harm reduction for young people across Latin America: theory and evidence for better drug policies.”
  6. Cristina von Sperling, Karim Khan Afridi Welfare Foundation (Pakistan): “Young People and Drugs.”
  7. Nihat Yücel, Turkish Green Crescent: “The importance of effective and widespread preventative work with youth.”
  8. Sara Velimirovic, Students for Sensible Drug Policies (USA): “Young People and Drugs – evidence and recommendations by the Paradigma coalition of youth organisations representing thousands of impacted young people around the world.”

The meeting was opened by the outgoing INCB President Viroj Sumyai from Thailand, and the VNGOC Chair (and IDPC Chief Operating Officer) Jamie Bridge – and then chaired by Andrés Finguerut, the Secretary of the Board. The speakers covered a wide range of different topics, including harm reduction, policy reform, illicit trafficking, treatment, prevention and rehabilitation. Unlike in 2018, the Board members were also encouraged to ask questions and engage in discussions with the speakers (in 2018, they were on a strict “listening brief” only).

These civil society hearings are a very welcome initiative, and represent how the INCB is gradually embracing the need to be more accessible and transparent. Future hearings would benefit from longer preparation periods (allowing more time for the call for speakers), and the INCB should also consider web-casting the events. Further, to ensure the best possible standard of civil society engagement, the INCB should consider providing funding for speakers to travel to Vienna – despite the best efforts of the VNGOC, the only speakers from the list above who were able to attend the meeting in person were those based in Europe or Asia.

The INCB followed-up on the meeting with a joint press release with the VNGOC.