Young People and the World Drug Problem

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 In News

For young people and the world drug problem, the question is: ‘is the war on drugs really working?’ Okwaraogoma Ononuju Silver has an answer.


The 1961 Single Convention On Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention On Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic Of Narcotic Drugs And Psychotropic Substances all aim to prohibit the supply and demand of drugs as well as ensure that such substances are available for scientific research (IDPC, WACD 2015). Yet the criminalisation of drug use and drug users has escalated the drug problem rather than abate it.

Young people and the world drug problem have always been considered to be intertwined. Youth, 1.8 billion of the world’s population (UNFPA, 2015), are the greatest users and abusers of drugs. Efforts and policy that combat the world drug problem should focus on how to improve institutional support for drug users, harm reduction, drug abuse awareness and tackling drug trafficking across the globe.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report 2015, more than 1 out of 10 drug users are problem drug users who suffer from drug dependence. This fact reinforces the apparent drug problem and also cites the burden placed on health centres.

The amount of funding channelled towards criminalising the drug trade can be channelled toward building health centres for drug users, even at the community level, to help their reintegration into the society.

The drug war in many parts of the world has taken a militarised strategy against communities and young people of colour under the guise of fighting drug trade. There is also the problem of racially profiling drug users – drug use and drug problems, as a result of the media and government policies, have been used to target minority groups and races.

This does not leave out the environmental implications of the drug war. In a bid to stop farmers from growing illicit plants like coca, many governments employ aerial fumigation to kill the crops.

The adverse effects on the environment, communities and sources of livelihood of the farmers cannot be over-emphasised, especially with the signing of COP21. The Colombian government in 2015 halted the aerial spraying of the coca plant as a result of health concerns.

This is not to say that the health consequences and societal vices that come with drug use should be discarded in a bid to help drug users. The violence committed as a result of drug abuse and the fight for drug territories in other parts of the world is enormous. Government efforts should tackle the problem of demand and supply for drugs from the source.

However, as a result of corruption and corrupt practices of many government officials who are on the payroll of drug lords, attention has been taken away from criminalising the source to criminalising the end user, who are often youths.

But just as young people are targets in conflict, violence and terrorism, so they can also be explored as actors in peace and rebuilding societies.


Submitted by Ononuju, a volunteer with the African Union Youth Volunteer Corp programme. He was a UN exchange learning intern with CIVICUS and participated in the 28th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council and the 22nd session of the Universal Periodic Review. He is a graduate of International Law and Diplomacy and is currently pursuing his Masters degree in Peace and Conflict Studies in Nigeria.


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