Drugs Demand Reduction

Published: 12 March 2008

Statement by Shaun Hazeldine, Youth Adviser and National Manager of the Australian Red Cross Save-A-Mate program, at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, in Vienna

Thank you for again giving the floor to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

The issue of Drug Demand Reduction is taken seriously by the IFRC and there are many Red Cross and Red Crescent societies across the world engaged in this work.

This includes inter alia peer education prevention and harm reduction initiatives, needle exchanges, substitution therapy, outreach and counselling to name just a few areas.

The bulk of our work is conducted by community volunteers drawn from our worldwide network of member National Societies and their tens of millions of trained volunteers.

The health and humanitarian rights of individuals and communities is of paramount importance to the Red Cross and Red Crescent and drives all of our work globally. Demand Reduction including prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, and the reduction of the negative health and social consequences of drug abuse is critical for the public health and humanitarian impacts that substance misuse has on individuals, families and communities.

IFRC notes that the commission includes Harm Reduction as a component of Demand Reduction where in some member states it is recognised as a separate and distinct strategy.

We welcome the Report of the Executive Director on Demand Reduction. In particular we would like to draw attention to a few key recommendations.

We will in this statement focus on the needs of young people for it is this group that overwhelmingly faces the greatest risks with respect to substance use.

We welcome the improvement and stabilisation of drug prevention education activities in schools (particularly life-skills development) and strongly support the development of targeted strategies to high-risk groups outside of the school system.

It is the marginalised and vulnerable that so often fall through the cracks.

Drug prevention activities targeting young people are crucial to contribute to ensuring a reduction in the uptake of drug use and in particular harmful use.

However there is also a need for strong complimentary harm reduction strategies targeting young people.

Experience and research tells us that drug use declines with age and it is vital that our young people do not unnecessarily suffer the negative health and social impacts of drug use whilst they are travelling through their formative years.

We commend the increase in drug treatment services, including substitution treatment. Substitution therapy has repeatedly shown to be a successful method of assisting users to cease using illicit opioids and to regain control of their lives.

We also highlight that continuum of care is crucial in any drug treatment strategy, particularly after-care, where without it so many individuals find it difficult to stay free of drugs.

It is noted that there is in all instances a need for additional treatment services, in particular those that are targeted to young people and are designed specifically to be accessible and effective to this group.

We strongly support the development of services that address the negative health and social consequences of drug abuse.

In particular I would like to mention needle exchanges which have repeatedly been proven to reduce the transmission of HIV between injecting drug users and indeed wider society. The incidence of Hepatitis C can also be arrested with similar strategies.

Experience in my own country, Australia, shows that needle exchanges are more likely to be successful contributors to harm reduction when easily accessible to key target groups and when featured as a component of a broader demand reduction strategy.

Peer education initiatives are invaluable to reduce risks and harm such as HIV. Others include voluntary and free testing, counselling, condom distribution and substitution therapies.

We would also like to make particular mention of highly vulnerable groups. It is these groups that the Red Cross and Red Crescent’s are most concerned with and who are at most risk of enduring additional negative health and social consequences.

These include those in prisons, sex workers the homeless and others living in extreme poverty and of course our young people in general.

So, Mr Chairman, we congratulate the Executive Director on this report and its important work and in particular commend those member states which continue to develop demand and harm reduction strategies that increase the health, dignity and lives of vulnerable people.

We will be working to improve opportunities for all States to work closely with their National Societies on these critical issues in the future, making use of the auxiliary role of National Societies (which was mentioned in a little more detail in our statement in the thematic debate yesterday).