Young people from all around the world meet in Zouk Mikaël to discuss Harm Reduction strategies and Drug Policy Reform:
“We want our place at the table!”
Beirut hosted between April 3 and 7, 2011, the XXII International Harm Reduction Conference brought together scientists, activists, social workers, public health professionals, people who use drugs and young people from over 80 different countries with the aim to share knowledge and experience as well as discussing new approaches.
Youth RISE, the sole global youth-led network that works on drug policy reform and harm reduction aims at voicing young people who use drugs those affected by drug policy and those working in the field. “We want you to know that we are here, we are active, and we are willing. Work with us in transforming passivity to leadership, discrimination into equality, and neglect into empowerment”, said Anita Krug, Youth RISE International Coordinator.
In order to achieve this goal Youth RISE brought together 46 young people from different countries. From March 31st through April 2nd, 2011 young people met in the Youth and Culture Center in Zouk Mikaël. The venue’s structure and division provided the participants with a youth friendly environment where ideas and experiences can be shared and projects developed. People came from 18 countries covering all the continents Europe, Africa, Asia, America and Australia.
The first two days were meant to build the knowledge of young participants through different workshops covering the basics of harm reduction and drug policy reform also going into specific examples such as Methadone treatment for young people, Islam and drug use, recreational use of drugs, HIV and Hepatitis C. In addition, sessions were given on advocacy, project development and media handling.
On April 2nd, participants brainstormed on major issues concerning drug policy reform, harm reduction services, participation of young people and Human rights. Young people who attended the Youth RISE pre-conference developed political recommendations that are crucial for the wellbeing and betterment of young people who use drugs:
Ø Criminalization of young drug users is one of our major concerns. Current policies that criminalize drug use result in mass incarceration, and criminal records lead to life long stigma and push young people to the fringes of society.
Ø Young people who use drugs deserve equal rights. We have a right to freedom from discrimination based on age, HIV status, drug use, sexual orientation and gender.
Ø Young people have a right to education and should not be excluded from education or employment because of their drug use. Include drug education in official national curricula, and develop education programs that reach young people who are not in the education system. Young people must also be educated on their legal and human rights. Knowledge leads to empowerment to claim these rights.
Ø Harm reduction must be confidential and accessible, based on a holistic approach and local needs assessments that are culturally and contextually appropriate.
Ø As young people, we do not only inject opiates. Harm reduction must go beyond injecting drug use, and address harms associated with the wide variety of drugs that young people use today.
Ø Remove tokenism, and meaningfully engage young people affected by drug policies in the overall processes starting from needs assessment to development of projects, to implementation, M&E and decision-making.