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Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking Marked by Forum in Sydney

Sydney, Australia - To commemorate the UN International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, a one-day seminar was held on June 26 in Sydney. It was sponsored by Drug Free Australia, the Universal Peace Federation, and the Women’s Federation for World Peace.

About 40 people of all ages and backgrounds came to hear three presenters speak and participate in a panel discussion. Last year a historic meeting at the New South Wales Parliament was co-sponsored by Drug Free Australia and the Women's Federation, with great support from the Ambassadors for Peace of UPF. Twelve parliamentarians participated, along with 70 guests.

Mr Gary Christian, Secretary of Drug Free Australia, gave an insightful and comprehensive overview of the current Australian policy, which focuses on harm minimization and the controversial “injection rooms” in Sydney and their results. There are different models worldwide and Drug Free Australia is looking to find and advise the government on the most one most likely to bring the best results. Drug addiction in Australia is one of the highest, per capita, in the developed world.

A second speaker, Andrew Gason of Straight off the Street gave a riveting account of his own descent into drug addiction through the “gateway drug” of marijuana. His personal testimony was eye opening as he explained the web he became entangled with of dealers, gangs, turf wars, and finally prison. He talked about seeing his friends die off one by one through senseless violence and overdoses. He made a decision to change his life and spends his time educating youth, parents, and teachers in schools and youth councils.

UPF director Rev. Enrique Ledesma spoke on the patterns of shifts in drug addiction, worldwide, taken from the most recent UN World Report highlighting that although cocaine and heroin abuse are dropping in some parts of the developed, they are rising in other parts such as Europe. The changing routes of distribution are destabilizing countries in Africa. Also, there is a sharp rise in the developed world of cheaply made amphetamines that have changed the landscape and accessibility of powerfully addictive drugs. Rev. Ledesma emphasized that UPF’s approach focuses on addressing the demand end of the equation through strengthening families and social institutions.

Mamiko Rattley has been the driving force behind the character education initiative, which is being well received by teachers and youth in the suburbs where drug abuse is the highest. Catrine Von Dinklage, project coordinator for UPF, has provided invaluable support in strengthening our networks of Ambassadors for Peace over the last years and is keen on increasing their involvement in this initiative.

There was a valuable panel discussion with the three speakers taking questions from the audience. Follow up meetings to plan strategic networking are already underway as there was a consensus to work together and use our different focuses and strengths in a united way.

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