Vienna (Austria), 19 December 2022 – In response to the growing problem of synthetic drugs around the world, UNODC launched a new strategy in December 2022 to support countries in addressing the situation. In the past decade, synthetic drugs rapidly emerged on illicit drug markets and reached a record high in 2020. Civil society can play an important role in preserving the health of the global community, and it is critical to involve a wide range of voices including NGOs, affected communities and academia in the implementation of the UNODC Synthetic Drug Strategy, bridging gaps between Member States, international organizations and affected communities.
To discuss how civil society organizations can contribute to the implementation of the strategy, UNODC held a civil society consultation on 8 December 2022. The civil society consultation which took place in hybrid format in Vienna was a joint initiative of the UNODC Civil Society Unit (CSU) and the UNODC Drugs, Laboratory and Scientific Services Branch (DLSSB) in close collaboration with the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs (VNGOC) and the NGO Alliance on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (the Alliance).
Putting people and communities at the centre
Opening the meeting, Billy Batware, Programme Officer, UNODC CSU, stressed that the involvement of relevant civil society organizations will help move forward the implementation of the UNODC Synthetic Drug Strategy. Only by working together can we achieve the 2023 Agenda, ensuring that no one is left behind.
Meanwhile, Justice Tettey, Chief of UNODC DLSSB highlighted civil society’s expertise that can contribute to addressing and countering the world drug problem and related crimes. He also stated the significance of placing people and communities at the centre of the science informed responses to the growing synthetic drugs problem.
The Chair of the Alliance, Anna Alvazzi del Frate, expressed her pleasure to be able to co-organise the consultation and stated that we need to “…work together and make sure that …experiences from our members are used in this strategy.” At the same time, Jamie Bridge, the Chair of the VNGOC, called on all participants “…to keep this conversation going, turn ideas into actions and make sure that as civil society we are playing an active, helpful role in driving this strategy and making it a success”.
Asma Fakhri, Programme Management Officer, UNODC DLSSB presented the key aspects of the Synthetic Drug Strategy, explaining that the strategy builds on UNODC’s experience and lessons learned from the past years in dealing with the opioid crisis, and that it offers a balanced and comprehensive framework that is grounded in science. She stressed that without the consistent work of civil society, much of the illicit drug activity worldwide and its devastating consequences would remain hidden.
Two civil society representatives offered insights into challenges they face in relation to synthetic drugs. Corey Ranger from Harm Reduction Nurses Association Canada focused on the North American Synthetic Opioid Crisis and presented how the COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant increase in the use of fentanyl and its analogues, and other synthetic drugs in Canada. From a nurse’s perspective he shared the problems they have been facing and the initiatives they are developing in order to reduce the harm caused by synthetic drugs.
Barbara Nakijoba from Uganda Youth Development Link (UYDEL) turned the attention to crime prevention and countering synthetic drug trafficking in Uganda. She drew attention to the fact that the number of young people, including children who use drugs and alcohol is on the rise and explained how UYDEL is using safe spaces to offer young people havens where they recover, learn and work. Through UNODC LineUp LiveUp project, UYDEL supported youth to build life skills through music and sport, motivating young people, their families and the community to take action for positive changes.
In four breakout groups focusing on the four spheres of action of the strategy (Multilateralism; Early Warning; Health Responses and Counternarcotic Interventions) participants discussed ‘How civil society can best support the implementation of the Synthetic Drug Strategy?’ and ‘Concrete actions by UNODC and civil society groups to strengthen partnerships between them and Member States in the context of the strategy.’ Participants brought up a range of issues and suggestions including the need for more capacity building and more effective sharing of challenges and best practices across regions. Many highlighted that civil society is excellently placed to help ensure the involvement of people and communities with lived experiences. To facilitate this, tools and guidelines should be made available in easy-to-understand language to make them more accessible, and early warning systems need to be responsive and tailored to public health needs. Participants recommended the creation of expert groups to build on the four pillars of the strategy, making sure that also youth and marginalized groups are involved.
In conclusion, it was stressed that engaging civil society in the implementation of UNODC Synthetic Drug Strategy is about reducing harm, preventing deaths, and saving lives.
The meeting was a kick off for a consultative process to enhance and sustain meaningful civil society engagement in the implementation of the strategy.