The UNODC Youth Forum 2023 was held in person from March 13th to 15th. 34 youths from 28 countries gathered together to enhance their knowledge in substance use prevention, engage in interactive discussions, and learn best practices implemented in each other’s countries to gain ideas and inspirations of their own. As such, the Youth Forum serves as a platform for youth to exchange ideas, perspectives, and visions on how to safeguard the health and well-being of their peers, as called for by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3.5. Participants benefit from the chance to expand their network, share their ideas, and continue their personal growth.
This year's Youth Forum marked the first in-person gathering since 2020, and attendees received a warm welcome from Executive Director Ms. Ghada Waly, Director of Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs Mr. Jean-luc Lemahieu, as well as Youth Alumni from the Youth Forum 2022, who shared their experience with the Youth Forum and Youth Initiative to inspire and motivate the youth participants of 2023. As we officially ring in the new decade of Youth Initiative with the Youth Forum 2023, UNODC is determined to work with youth to invest in their development, empower youth to face the future with confidence, and looks forward to working together with youth as partners, for healthier communities and a healthier tomorrow.
UNODC expresses gratitude to the Permanent Missions of Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, China, Colombia, Croatia, Egypt, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Togo, Türkiye, and the USA for nominating young people to participate in this year's Youth Forum.
We hope that the Youth Forum laid the foundation for continued learning and growth for all young leaders that were with us in Vienna.
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Organized in-person from 13 to 15 March 2023 in Vienna (Austria), this year’s Youth Forum brought together 34 young leaders from 28 countries to learn about evidence-based drug use prevention, discuss their perspectives on the world drug problem, and be empowered to embark on or continue action on drug use prevention and health promotion. And, customary to the tradition of the Youth Forum, the youth were welcomed back to the Plenary session of the 66th Commission on Narcotic Drugs to address the global policymakers and present their views.
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Watch the highlights video here.
Excellencies, distinguished delegates,
We are 34 youth from 28 countries, and we are honoured to stand before you today.
We realize that substance use is a multifactorial problem that affects young people in every region around the world. For every person that experiences substance use disorders, there are greater burdens placed on healthcare, the economy, and communities. As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the world faces a new normal where people are still struggling to adjust to disruptions in their lives. With increased substance use during the isolation periods, we need to stay vigilant in addressing these issues to return to a normally functioning society.
The importance of preventing substance use cannot be understated, as prevention is a cost-effective, proactive solution to substance use. Raising awareness and passively disseminating information is not enough to stop the problem before it escalates. We should strive to achieve a healthy, equal, and sustainable society through commitment, perseverance, and strategic evidence-based programmes. By laying the foundations of prevention through education, social programmes, and policies, we can stop substance use before it starts. For example, more social and emotional skills learning that builds resilience at age-appropriate development stages could be implemented within the education system.
For our goal to be realised, urgent and conclusive action must be taken. This entails the improvement of health literacy on a global scale, the implementation of preventative policies, and the promotion of social support networks. The focus must be on the person, not the substance. Cooperation between various stakeholders is necessary and research must be further developed to avail more evidence-based prevention programmes.
We call on Member States to consult with youth to understand our values and needs. Youth engagement is critical in making prevention effective. Young people offer unique insight into constantly evolving substance use issues, foster borderless interconnected awareness, and ensure long-term sustainability. Youth should be actively engaged in the implementation of existing platforms and projects because we have a better understanding of our generation. We can also help create new evidence-based strategies with a holistic and regional context and perspective. Reducing power dynamics between adult leaders and youth is an effective way to ensure that we feel safe to express our ideas and feel empowered to take initiative. Only through collaboration can we reach innovative and practical solutions.
The importance of investing in our generation must not be ignored. We have a responsibility to ensure a safer future for everyone. We know what needs to be addressed, and what our needs are. Youth are the present, not just the future.
Breaking the cycle of substance use tomorrow requires youth engagement in prevention today.
Our youth participants are very active in building their community. They are introducing themselves and getting to know each other better. In particular, they are also sharing why they want to take part in the Youth Forum, and why this is meaningful to them.
We asked our the UNODC Youth Forum 2023 participants how actively they are engaged in substance use prevention and youth advocacy through their leadership, community outreach, and innovative approaches to raising awareness and promoting positive change.
The Youth Forum is not just about learning what is drug use prevention, but also sharing ideas on how youth could be more meaningfully involved. The Youth Forum 2023 participants share their experiences on their efforts and activities done to contribute to drug use prevention in their communities. Here is what three of this year’s participants shared about their community efforts in drug use prevention.
One of the key experiences of being part of the Youth Forum is getting to know other young leaders interested in working towards building a healthier and better future for themselves. In this pre-forum task, the participants of the Youth Forum 2023 met with their respective groups through virtual platforms and played a game as an ice-breaker.