By Shavangi Y. Sutaria
More than 70,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2017. The addiction, violence, and corruption associated with illicit drug use are not bound by international borders. Many illicit drugs are produced in one country and trafficked to another, spreading the impact and often lining the pockets of transnational organized crime groups. This international challenge requires a global solution. The Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) has made it a priority issue in bilateral and multilateral engagements as well as in foreign assistance programming. More specifically, the problem of drug use and addiction involves many countries and necessitates action on both a national- and community-level. Reducing the demand for illicit drugs in the first place is an important starting point. And while it is never too late to encourage awareness of the opioid epidemic across demographics, outreach to youth is critical.
With that in mind, INL, the Organization of American States, and the Colombo Plan held the first-ever Caribbean Youth Forum on Drug Use Prevention, Oct. 21-25. Thirteen countries and more than 100 participants ages 16-27 assembled in Barbados, giving young people in the Caribbean a platform and tools to develop effective and innovative drug prevention action plans for implementation in their local communities. Facilitators and subject matter experts from North America, Africa, and Asia joined them. Participating nations included Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Belize, Barbados, Dominica, Guyana, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. Long before they arrived in Bridgetown, the youth participants went through a rigorous application process, were divided into national teams, and received a six-month intensive training program. Teams developed drug prevention campaigns to promote their vision of drug-free local communities, using science-based prevention approaches. The weeklong forum provided the youth a capstone with plenaries, life skills workshops, and a chance to win a grant to implement their drug prevention campaigns.
Special guests at the Forum included U.S. Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Linda S. Taglialatela, Ambassador Adam Namm of the Organization of American States, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Cynthia Kierscht, and officials of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The grant winners were the national teams of Jamaica, Suriname, and Barbados. Every country team, however, will ultimately affect real change in their local communities, nations, and the world at large. More photos from the event can be viewed here.
Shavangi Y. Sutaria is a Foreign Affairs officer on detail to the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.