Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very happy to be here to address you at this third World Forum Against Drugs. Throughout my life I have held a firm belief that the key to a world where people can be happy, healthy and fulfilled is based on how we bring up and treat our children. How do we help them to grow and develop to have dignity, respect and the opportunity to achieve their potential as human beings?
At the same time we know there are many obstacles that our young people face in a world that often reflects the unwelcome side of humanity with its greed, cruelty and selfishness. Drugs are often the vehicle of this unwelcome exhibition of human nature. The outcome of growing, trading, distribution and selling of drugs, both legal and illegal substances, is that they can end up in the hands of our youngsters and cause untold misery to those children, their friends, families and communities.
Do you know that "every three minutes, someone dies as a result of illicit drug use"; that "in the USA someone dies from misuse of prescription drugs every nineteen minutes"; that "harmful use of alcohol results in 2.5 million deaths each year"; and that "an estimated 150 million people use tobacco and that 75 million of these will die prematurely as a result of tobacco use."
Staggering statistics. And human lives and suffering are the reality behind the numbers.
The issue is an international one. What is grown and produced in one country can affect the lives of children not only there but around the world. We need international solutions.
There are no easy answers to what is a major health issue. A response is required to address the growing supply of drugs reaching young people; a continued focus to support and treat those who fall victim to drug abuse; but it also needs increased efforts and investment in education and prevention of drug abuse.
We have to educate to achieve prevention. We have to do this by offering our young people the skills and abilities to be protected from those factors that cause them to become involved. We need to consider the risk factors that often contribute to drug use; we have to provide healthy alternatives and opportunities for our young people that will help them to develop with the hope, intention and capability to live a meaningful, healthy and happy life. We know that prevention is not only better than cure but it is cheaper! For every $1 we spend on effective prevention we will save $18 that would otherwise have to be spent on treatment.
My involvement with two international charities, The World Childhood Foundation and The Mentor Foundation, has reflected this concern for young people and for the need to focus on them. In particular they address the issues surrounding drug abuse and how we can prevent involvement with drugs and achieve a healthy and meaningful life.
This conference allows us to reflect and recommit to this focus on our young people and how we can best address the issue of drugs in our policies and practice. Whether we do this from the perspective of our concern for young people in Brazil, Colombia, USA or here in Sweden I would like to suggest our reference point should be the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Such "Conventions" can often be seen as mere words. Our job is to ensure they are translated into policy and practice.
I would therefore like to close with three references from the UNICEF summary of the Rights of the Child Convention and ask us all to consider if what we are doing and planning reflects that we are translating theory into practice. It is a challenge that we can all respond to as governments, organisations or individuals.
The first statement is:
And I suggest is not just governments - but how well are we doing in achieving this laudable aim?
All means possible? Do we really invest as much as we should in education and prevention efforts for our young people?
The primary concern is the best interests of our children and the decisions we make in their best interests - they are our global family of children and they are our responsibility.
I am sure that this Forum will conduct its deliberations with these three key points in mind and ensure that what we say, but more importantly, what we do, will be the best for our children both now and in the future. I trust it will lead to a world where young people are free from the harm that drugs can cause and give them the wherewithal to find health, fulfilment, dignity and happiness in their lives.