World Congress on Humanitarian Drug Policy

The 2008 Red Cross Red Crescent World Congress on Humanitarian Drug Policy was held in Barcelona, Spain from 5–7 March 2008. This congress brought together leaders of over 70 National Society from all over the world, along with representatives of the International Federation secretariat and other offices and centres of our Movement. The goal was to discuss how to implement the Rome Consensus, and work with our governments to develop humanitarian drug policy. The congress was co-hosted by the Spanish Red Cross, Centre for cooperation in the Mediterranean and the Italian Red Cross, and was funded by the Senlis Council.

Throughout the congress, there was a lot of focus on youth involvement in the process, as young people are seen both as a group which is greatly affected by the issues surrounding drug use, and as a powerful agent for social change, particularly when it comes to changing the perception that drug users are criminals, to that they are vulnerable.

Following the congress, a special meeting for youth leaders was held with the aim of engaging youth in the development of humanitarian drug policy, and promoting and developing youth lead initiatives in this field. The meeting was attended by youth representatives of the National Societies of Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Estonia, France, St. Vincent’s, San Marino, South Africa, Togo, and Uganda, as well as the Red Cross EU office, Centre for cooperation in the Mediterranean, the International Federation and the Senlis Council. During the meeting, both the Australian and Spanish Red Cross Societies presented programmes that they are currently using to sensitize with young people to the effects of drug use, and the Senlis Council brought forward a proposal on how to encourage young people to become more involved in advocating governments to change and improve their drug policies.

The Australian Red Cross has been working with young drug users and their peers for many years now, through a programme called “Save-a-mate”. This programme aims to educate young people about the risks involved in taking alcohol and other drugs, and how to deal with related emergencies. Rather than only telling young people that drugs are bad for them, the aim is to educate users about the risks involved, with an aim to minimizing harm. Over recent years, the majority of scientific and social research in this field has shown that harm reduction is the most effective way of working with young drug users. The save-a-mate programme also incorporates mental health issues into its work with young people, which is important as there are many links between mental health and drug use among young people.

The Spanish Red Cross also shared a number of programmes on drug sensitization for young people, including their latest website, which has many interesting tools to help educate young people on how various drugs affect them. One particularly interesting tool on the website shows the effect that drugs such as alcohol have on your ability to drive a car! The Senlis Council, sponsors of the event also presented a campaign they have been developing called “make sense.” The goal is highlight the need for changes in the current policies through raising awareness among young people of the negative side to current policy.

During the youth meeting, there was some discussion on how we can bring about concrete action on the ground that will directly benefit young people affected by drug use. The answer will come from programmes such as those developed by the Spanish and Australian Red Cross youth. These programmes do not stigmatize those who use drugs as criminals, but rather treat them as people, and try to minimize the risk that these people face. If your local group or National Society has a programme focused on young people affected by drug use, please let us know. You can contact us by emailing [email protected].


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