The Paris Pact Expert Working Group on Early Prevention of Drug Use and Drug Use Disorders was held in a hybrid format on 1-2 November 2023, in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The Paris Pact Initiative is an international coalition of 58 partner countries and 23 organizations, brought together to address the illicit traffic of opiates originating in Afghanistan and strengthen coordinated approach by partners. The recent Expert Working Group meeting was held in support of the Pillar IV (Drug Prevention and Health) of the Vienna Declaration, and in particular focused on early prevention, promoting prevention systems and coordination at multiple levels within the country to avail services that support age-appropriate development and evidence-based approaches.
The 2-day event observed participation by 85 participants from 24 countries and five international and regional organizations, who convened to better understand and share their recent actions and initiatives taken to promote early prevention as a part of their national or organisational response to drug demand reduction. A youthful presence of a UNODC Youth Alumni was notable amongst the attendees, especially during the segment on ‘Youth-based Prevention’, which sought to highlight the importance of meaningful youth engagement in prevention efforts, including the various UNODC initiatives that strive to involve youth in its programmes, both at the global and regional level.
For youth-led initiatives at the local level, participants of the Expert Working Group had the privilege of gaining insight on the valuable contribution and transformative power that youth can have on their surroundings. Maya Nujaim, a former Youth Forum 2020 participant from Canada, shared her story of engagement and her perspective as a substance use prevention counsellor in her community. Her motivation stemming from her personal journey of requiring medication for her scoliosis and in being involved in a follow-up research study, her participation in the Youth Forum, and her studies in psychoeducation paved the way for Maya to develop her early career of working in substance use prevention.
Maya works in various projects which involve school students, school staff, and parents through in-class workshops, individual counselling, school staff training, and workshops for parents. Her affiliated organisation of 30 youth peers work together to support younger students on building social skills, encouraging open dialogue with youth to dispel misfacts, and positively influence their behaviours. Maya alone has provided 56 workshops in high schools and 10 workshops in elementary schools in just one year, and helped 12 – 17 year olds with 135 individual counselling sessions. Through her presentation, Maya urged policymakers and national stakeholders to invite youths to share their ideas, projects, and experiences related to prevention, and to truly trust the experiences and work of youth when engaging with them.
Maya’s journey is a meaningful example of the importance of self-motivation and youth empowerment being at the core of one’s sense of autonomy and commitment; it gives life to both personal and professional satisfaction, and compels us to do more and reach more. Kudos to Maya for all of her achievements, and hope her call to action resonates with policy makers who wish to work for, and with youth.