25 June 2003

Message from Mr. Antonio Maria Costa,
Executive Director, United Nations Office On Drugs and Crime
on the Occasion of the
International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking
26 June 2003

"Let's Talk about Drugs"

VIENNA, 25 June (UN Information Service) -- The world over we see societies taking a perplexing attitude towards drug abuse - so much so that there seems to be some kind of taboo at work.  We know that drug abuse exists and that dependence is a preventable and curable condition. Yet it has become a widespread global problem because, at times, a veil of silence shrouds discussions on the issue. This silence about drugs perpetuates the problem in two ways. On the one hand, the stigma attached to drug addiction and the exclusion of most addicts from the mainstream has led to ignorance about the nature of this health and social malaise and the treatment alternatives that exist. On the other hand, in our personal lives too, we often hesitate to talk to our children about drugs and substance abuse, thus leaving them vulnerable to ill informed, or, worse, deliberately misleading sources of information - often on the Internet. It is high time to break the silence.

So, my message on the occasion of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking this year is very simple indeed.  Let's talk about drugs!

Let's talk about the effects drug abuse has on one's health and psyche, about WHY people abuse drugs, HOW we can tackle these root causes and, of course, about WHAT we can do to stop drug abuse.  Let's talk about drug abuse with our children, with our peers, indeed also with our doctors or health care workers so that they can give us proper medical advice as and when we need it. We should not hesitate to broach the subject wherever appropriate, be it in our homes or in our schools or indeed in other public spaces.

I would especially like to address myself to young people worldwide when I say, I know you do talk with your friends and peers about substance abuse, and I think this is a good thing. But remember, talk informatively and accurately, and be careful about what you say because a lot of the time, your friends listen to you more than they listen to adults. Base your opinions on hard facts and not on pseudo science.  You should question the sources of information, be they websites or individuals, who give you glib and easy answers to your questions about drugs.  There will be people, maybe even some of your friends, who will tell you that "smoking a joint" or "popping a tab" is normal or cool. But when you hear such things, take a minute to think.

Think, for example, that over 96% of the world population do not abuse illicit drugs.  So, not everyone does it. Think also of the fact that more and more people are voluntarily seeking treatment for cannabis abuse problems and that evidence is fast mounting that even casual abuse of ecstasy can lead to long term brain damage. So "recreational" drug abuse can't be safe, can it? It seems clear that there is no such thing as a safe high.

Turning now to parents and adults, who care for children and young people, I have this to say: We must learn to bring up the subject of substance abuse when the time is right. The widespread availability of illegal drugs in some societies and the glorification of drug abuse in some attractively subversive sub-cultures means that often our children hear about, or come into contact with drugs pretty early on in their lives.  Sometimes media coverage, the entertainment industry and urban myth may make you feel that  "recreational" drug abuse is a  "normal" part of adolescence today and this may in turn discourage you from seriously discussing drugs and drug abuse with your children. However, drug abuse is  NOT an acceptable or indeed popular part of young peoples' lives. As parents it is our duty to  prepare them to face situations involving drugs by equipping them with the right kind of social and personal skills to make the right decisions.  We must talk to them openly and without exaggeration about the effects of drug abuse and what it can do to their bodies. Trying to scare them or simply forbidding them is usually counterproductive. Instead, prepare yourself, get as much factual information as you need and then enter into a genuine dialogue with your children, and approach the issue from their perspective.

This brings me to the other half of talking: listening - often the most important and the most difficult part of a conversation.  Let us be receptive and open-minded towards others - especially to today's youth.  Let us find out more about their hopes and aspirations, their worries and fears.  For us as adults, it is vital that we listen to our youth, that we learn about their circumstances and the factors that push them towards drug abuse. We must listen to them also because they know much more about the drug scene, the kinds of drug cocktails that flood the market and the myths that surround them.  If we are to combat this menace, we need accurate, up-to-date information, and young people can be our best source and also our best allies.

Finally let me repeat, there is no aspect of drug abuse that should be kept under wraps. There are no stories of addiction so shameful that they should be buried or hidden. And there should certainly be no guilt attached to admitting to a drug problem and seeking help.

Let us recognize drug abuse for what it is - a preventable phenomenon that afflicts a small but important part of our societies; a social problem, which the comity of nations must combat together, within the framework of international law; and an individual issue, that we must address, in the first instance, by putting it firmly on our political and social agendas by talking about it openly!

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