“When you are young, they assume you know nothing” is the lyrics from a popular song named, “Cardigan” by Taylor Swift that demonstrates how society perceives today’s young generation. However, a quotation by Jane Goodall (2015), states that “if young people are informed and empowered, when they realize that what they do truly makes a difference, can indeed change the world.” So, it can be claimed that young individuals have the power to change the world into a better place when they understand and use their potential. As advocates for substance use prevention from all around the world, we are certain that through our combined efforts, a snowball effect1 can be procured to achieve the task of creating healthy and sound communities.
The United Nations define “Youth” as reflecting the age group of 15 to 24 years. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers adolescence between 10 and 19 years and the term “young people” refers to the composite age group 10-24 years. These definitions are based on a certain consensus about the factors (biological, social and cultural) that define youth worldwide. However, it should be noted that the notion of youth may vary considerably across countries due to the socio-economic-cultural context. The social and cultural entry into adult life may correspond to the economic autonomy of the person, the establishment of a family or the participation in a certain ritual. There are over 1.8 billion young people today out of which 90% reside in the global south taking up a large portion of their population.2
One of the biggest dangers that directly threatens the well-being of today’s youth is the non-medical use of drugs and other substances. According to statistics3 there was a steep rise in the global drug use pattern for people aged 15-64 between 2009 and 2018. The UNODC and WHO International Standards on Drug Use Prevention4 emphasize the importance of focusing on youth. They are more sensitive towards its harmful effects due to risk factors such as dysfunctional familie, mental disorders, try-out of adult roles, and responsibilities, to name a few. The International Standards have identified scientific interventions with age-appropriate activities suitable for a particular developmental stage to be introduced at an early stage. Research shows that when youth have ongoing, caring relationships, they have access to guidance, support, help, and even improved psychosocial, behavioural, and academic outcomes [Thompson et. al., 2015].
Additionally, UNODC encourages a comprehensive approach that includes various evidence-based interventions and another supporting awareness raising. For example, the “listen first”5 materials provide a safe space for children and youth to make them feel heard and valued and inculcate skills such as self-management, or patience by enhancing interpersonal relationships in families.
When asked about the significance of positive youth engagement, youth are recognized as a major resource for all development efforts. Their active involvement and leadership must fully and sustainably achieve global development goals (Handbook on Youth Participation in Drug and Prevention Work, 2020). Especially for preventing substance use, youth engagement can be presented as a protective factor; as peer relationships directly influence decision-making among individuals. Relatedly this takes us back to Goodall’s (2015) words, which stresses educating the youth and involving them in prevention activities to become the torchbearers of the future and spread awareness among their peers through positive influence.
Youth engagement creates a sense of belongingness, builds a common identity that inspires action, or brings like-minded people together to pursue a common cause. Rather than trying to achieve a goal as a single unit, it is better to strive towards it as a group, the impact is bigger.
Driven and passionate individuals together in a forum sharing varied experience, or working together as an organisation to bring a change in the community or using their resources to create a positive impact is what the world needs right now.
To further the goal of empowering young change-makers, an excellent example of a great work that we are proud to be a part of that embodies the power of youth in all aspects is the “Global Youth Forum- UNODC”. The Forum is an annual event organized by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as an initiative in the broader context of the Narcotics Drugs Commission (CND) The event which enables young people to take an active role in drug prevention and health promotion activities in their communities through a shared platform for exchanging ideas and perspectives. As advocates for substance use prevention from all around the world, we are certain that through combined efforts a snowball effect can be procured to achieve the task of creating healthy and sound communities.
Due to the unprecedented pandemic circumstances, the Youth Forum 2021 was organised virtually but despite that saw the participation of 62 young representatives from 41 countries! The forum stands as an opportunity that showcases the concept of unity in diversity perfectly Even though each individual is unique in their approach, they all believe in the same values regarding the importance of prevention activities. The power of a global youth network gives out an important message that the strength of young people can overcome a myriad of challenges and together their voices are strong enough to be heard on any platform and leave a mark. As a matter of fact, the final CND Youth Statement created by the young individuals as a culmination of their combined effort in the forum carried this emotion perfectly as they addressed the policymakers in their speech, “Our voices are strong, and we must be heard in the present and remain impactful in the future.”
In conclusion, initiatives such as youth forums act as contributing factors towards educating young people in science-based substance use prevention activities as well as in enabling a global platform to create a reservoir of connections to be used as resources. When considering the power of acting together, it would be appropriate to include the following idiom: you cannot make a sound with your one hand, but you can surely clap with two of them; so let’s clap our hands for a better world!
1The snowball effect describes when something grows in significance or size at an increasingly faster rate. The name comes from imagining a snowball rolling down a hill - it gets larger and larger with more snow and becomes faster and more powerful as it moves onward.
3In 2018, an estimated 269 million people, or 5.4 per cent of the global population aged 15-64, had used drugs in the previous year. Over the period of 2009-2018, the estimated number of past-year users of any drug globally increased from 210 million to 269 million, this is an increase by more than 25 percent. Among the estimated 269 million people who used drugs in the past year, some 35.6 million are estimated to suffer from drug use disorders, meaning that their drug use is harmful, or they may experience drug dependence and/or require treatment. This corresponds to a global prevalence of drug use disorders of 0.7 per cent among the population aged 15–64
4International Standards on Drug Use Prevention (unodc.org)
5Link to read more about Listen First: https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/listen-first/