CHIANG MAI, 10 April 2003 – UNICEF is calling for changes in the way drug treatment programmes care for young people with drug addiction problems.
“It is time we looked at young people who use drugs as human beings, in need of support and not simply ‘drug addicts’ in need of correction,” said Robert Bennoun, UNICEF Regional Advisor on HIV/AIDS.
Mr. Bennoun made the comments at the 14th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm. More than 800 delegates, including epidemiologists and leading narcotic experts from around the world, are attending this five-day event.
Across Asia the use of amphetamine-type substances is on the rise. These drugs, including metamphetamines, are now the drugs of choice among young people who use drugs. The users of these drugs are getting younger and the way they self-administer the drugs is changing too, says UNICEF.
“There is research suggesting a link between amphetamine use and increased vulnerability and risk behaviors, including the inherent risk of exposure to HIV/AIDS,” said Mr. Bennoun. “Unless society seeks to better understand why these young people are using drugs the rates of infection through the sharing of needles and other unsafe practices associated with their drug-taking will lead to a rise in HIV/AIDS and other diseases.”
UNICEF sponsored young delegates from several Southeast Asian countries to attend the Conference – many who are recovering from years of drug abuse.
The young delegates told the conference that attempts by society to rehabilitate them are not working, primarily because the underlying issue of drug addiction is not being addressed.
The number of young people using drugs is steadily increasing, and UNICEF says the advice of young people who use drugs must be acted upon to reverse the trend.
“There are many myths about why young people use drugs,” said Joyce Djaelani-Gordon, a UNICEF-sponsored treatment expert from Indonesia. “Many think young people get their drugs from dealers, when in fact they get their drugs from their friends. That’s how it begins – they tried it, they liked it, they got hooked.”
A study conducted by Djaelani-Gordon’s treatment centre in Bogor, Indonesia reported 86% of young people who used drugs obtained their first drugs from friends. And more than two-thirds of them consumed their drugs either at school or places where young people gathered.
The UNICEF-sponsored youth delegates said one of the many reasons so many of them used drugs was to escape the pressures they faced at home. “Society doesn’t accept young people who do drugs, so young people start to feel like they have no value… so they want to go back to drugs,” said Weerayut.
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