Reverend Monsignor,

Your Majesty, Queen Silvia of Sweden,

Distinguished participants,

My sincere thanks to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences for holding this very important workshop to strengthen science-based solutions to a problem of great concern to all of the international community.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank your Majesty, for your dedicated efforts to prevent drug abuse around the world, and for your long-standing support for the work of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, including our launch of the Listen First prevention campaign in New York during the recent UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs (UNGASS).

Today, I would like to focus on the outcomes of the UNGASS and their impact on the international drug control system.

But before I do so, I would like to tell you how impressed I was listening to the first address of His Holiness Pope Francis to the UN General Assembly in September 2015.

He spoke, in particular, about « another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade. »

He said, and I quote, « Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption. A corruption which has penetrated to different levels of social, political, military, artistic and religious life, and, in many cases, has given rise to a parallel structure which threatens the credibility of our institutions ».

This important address highlighted the seriousness of drug challenges.

It made clear the links with other forms of crime and corruption, as the criminal networks behind drug trafficking are often involved in other cruel offences.

The words of His Holiness illuminated the wide-ranging negative impact that illicit drugs have on peace, security, development, health and human rights all over the world.

This is evident if we look at just a few of the problems we are facing, including: the intensifying nexus of organized crime groups and terrorists profiting from the illicit drug trade; the use of the darknet for drug trafficking; the proliferation of new psychoactive substances; a growing market for amphetamines, including captagon, in the Middle East; the destabilizing effects of drugs and trafficking on fragile regions such as West Africa; lethal violence in Central America; and the opioid crisis in North America.

Globally, there are more than 200,000 drug-related deaths a year, with up to half of these deaths involving opioids.

Twenty-nine million people were identified as problem drug users, including 12 million people who inject drugs, 14 per cent of whom live with HIV.

Contained in those dry facts and figures is a world of pain and suffering.

Drugs and crime so often harm those who can least afford it, gaining a foothold where poverty, instability and weak rule of law have left people, especially young people, vulnerable.

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