(The spoken version shall take precedence)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to open this very important session and I am pleased to see so many countries and organizations represented here today. We all know that focused international cooperation is crucial in order to successfully prevent drug abuse and to coordinate prevention programs. Today’s launch of the “Listen First” campaign, highlighting the importance of preventing children from drug abuse, is a positive result of this cooperation. Preventing children and young people from drug abuse has been a primary focus for me for over 20 years. Although there is still much work to be done, we should recognize the milestones that have been reached.
The agreement on International Standards on Drug Use Prevention is a major achievement. It is a most strategic step in raising awareness of the importance of evidence-based primary prevention initiatives towards the vision of a drug-free world.
The new Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development identifies our obligations regarding Goal 3.5 “Strengthen the prevention and the treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol”.
We must always bear in mind the convention on the Rights of the Child, and in particular article 33, which makes protecting children from drugs a priority. The article reads “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislative, administrative, social and educational measures, to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances as defined in the relevant international treaties, and to prevent the use of children in the illicit production and trafficking of such substances”.
The implementation of this particular article must be conducted in accordance with other Human Rights Obligations and the UN Drug Conventions.
Prevention of drug abuse involves so much more than just information. Children and young people all over the world have access to a wealth of information; the internet is just a click away. We know that stand-alone information activities and campaigns targeting children and young people do not in isolation result in effective prevention. Prevention is much more about strengthening resilience in children and young people to cope with difficulties and instead choose healthy lifestyles. Prevention initiatives must involve caring adults, schools and the whole of society. Successful prevention should be built on sound structure, long-term visions and committed adults.
Effective prevention includes the promotion of health and social well-being. It is especially important to prevent young people from using drugs. The adolescent brain is more vulnerable than the adult brain to damage caused by drugs. We also know that early initiation of drug use raises the likelihood of early dropout from school. We cannot remain silent in the face of this threat against our children.
Substance abuse is preventable. Today, we have better knowledge of what is effective prevention and what should be implemented. We know that if prevention is carried out based on evidence and experience, it is highly cost efficient for society and it saves individuals and families from enormous suffering. Policy makers, scientific communities and NGOs, as well as representatives from the social services, healthcare and schools, must continue to invest in preventive efforts and to learn what works and what does not. The work must be evidence based, evaluated thoroughly and benefit from the guidance provided by the international standards on prevention. Prevention work must be culturally sensitive and must be adapted to specific contexts.
Although not all children in the world attend school, the majority does. School environments are extremely important arenas for the promotion of healthy lifestyles. Teachers must be given tools to strengthen children’s capacities to cope with the challenges of growing up.
Children and young people need adults that will support them as they grow up. As a founder of Mentor International, I have seen first-hand the strong and long-lasting impact of primary prevention on young people. In several countries, our programs are based on mentoring as a means to provide caring adults that engage with young people and help them to navigate through the difficulties and challenges of growing up. Today, Mentor is a federation of member organizations that provide prevention programs in many countries. The organization was formed in 1994 in cooperation with WHO. We are grateful for the valuable collaboration we have with many international and national organizations.
Tomorrow I will visit a public high school here in New York City. I will attend a prevention session with a large group of high-school students. This program, which is led by Mentor Foundation USA, brings students and scientists together to discuss their concerns about the drug problems in society. It will be a wonderful opportunity for me to listen to young people and hear their thoughts about effective prevention.
Organizations like Mentor and other prevention organizations will build on the excellent standards that this forum has developed and agreed on. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who has contributed to this work. These prevention standards will provide vital guidance for future prevention initiatives.
In conclusion, we must seize this unique opportunity to fully engage the international community in actions for effective prevention. Let us work together to support our young people to make positive choices free from drugs. I am convinced that we can do this together and I look forward to seeing the results of this meeting and the “Listen First” campaign.
Thank you very much!