Opening Remarks at the International Society of Drug Use Professionals (ISSUP) Fourth Annual Workshop

Kirsten D. Madison
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Nairobi, Kenya
December 10, 2018

Let me begin by thanking NACADA for hosting us here in sunny Nairobi. A workshop of this magnitude is no small task; we are grateful for Kenya’s leadership in organizing what is truly a global conference and to ISSUP and the African Union for your tireless efforts to make ISSUP-4 a reality.

We’re also joined by participants from more than 80 countries, including more than 40 African states; all of whom have dedicated their professional lives to preventing and treating those with substance use disorders. And it’s really humbling to be in a room with such important people.

Coming from the United States, where we are suffering through a drug-use epidemic of unprecedented scale in our history, these issues could not be more relevant to us, and the opportunity to come here and learn from you is very powerful.

Last year, more than 72,000 people died from drug overdose in my country. And sadly, we are far from alone in facing this tragedy: according to the latest United Nations World Drug Report, 450,000 people died due to drug use in 2015. To put that number in perspective, it is one of every ten people in the city of Nairobi, or enough people to fill this convention hall nearly 100 times. And that was in one year. And that’s staggering.

The Report also indicates that 275 million people used a drug at least once in 2016. While the use and overdose figures alone are staggering, countless more families, friends, and communities affected around the globe each day. Moreover, we know that drug use produces serious implications for public health, for security, for economic productivity, and for families and communities.

But there is good news too: We know substance use disorder is a disease from which people can recover. More than 70 years of scientific research shows that prevention and treatment can work. This is a powerful truth, and it is the powerful truth that brings us here this week, and what motivates my team that works on this issue daily.

ISSUP brings together many disciplines – health workers, educators, administrators, academics and researchers, trainers of the next generation of nurses, doctors, and leaders. It also brings people like me, who are in government to implement the best possible policies and programs for the communities we serve. It is when we combine all our skills, experiences, and knowledge that we can really tackle this challenge in a meaningful and enduring way.

We come to Nairobi to exchange expertise, conduct and engage in training, and network with peers – and learn from our peers – who grapple with and solve similar challenges around the world every day.

The United States is extraordinarily proud to support these efforts. Reducing demand for drugs is an essential component of a larger comprehensive approach to combatting the crisis. I am pleased my team at the U.S. Department of State has been able to partner with so many people who are here to take a truly crucial step in this process, which is creating specialized, universally applicable, evidence-based training programs centered on preventing and treating those with substance use disorders.

Our goal is to work with all of you to generate systematic and generational change.

The cornerstone of our global drug demand interventions is a workforce trained in evidence-based curricula. Recognizing both the challenge - and the necessity - of translating science into practice, our aim is to “unlock” the science and put it into step-by-step training modules, and then put it into work with our partners, including the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the Colombo Plan, national governments, universities, and NGOs to conduct trainings for prevention and treatment practitioners. It’s very practical stuff! These training events ensure that those who work directly with clients have what they need to provide the best possible care. We are thrilled, this week, during the course of this event, to support nine training sessions this week on prevention, treatment, working with adolescents, working with families, building drug free community coalitions, and developing drug free workplace programs.

In addition to developing the workforce, it is also absolutely critical that we ensure successful and consistent treatment outcomes. That’s why we support credentialing of practitioners to ensure that treatment provided is in line with the international treatment standards. This week, 45 additional practitioners will sit for credentialing exams. So good luck, if you’re one of those people; it’s been a long time since I’ve sat for an exam, and I don’t miss it.

Additionally, through a partnership with UNODC, we support a quality assurance system to enable national governments to evaluate and rate treatment centers within their country and develop recommendations to improve the quality of care. The program is complementary to an effort currently underway by the Organization of American States in the Western Hemisphere.

We also encourage participation in other networks, such as the International Consortium of Universities for Drug Demand Reduction. It’s a mouthful, for sure! With membership of over 130 universities around the world, this consortium works to expand drug prevention and treatment training within their communities and to integrate drug prevention and treatment materials into existing university programs. Furthermore, we support the development of community coalitions to drive prevention and treatment activities.

Across all aspects of our work, we know that interventions must be tailored for populations that have specific needs. These include children, people in rural areas, who have huge unique challenges, and individuals currently in recovery. In partnership with the Organization of American States, we’ve bene looking at broader issues this year; we supported a new 2-day course to provide policymakers an overview on alternatives to incarceration. This course brings together policymakers to review options for such alternatives, and allows for action planning on improving systems of care. So, I think it’s early in the process, but (it’s) an important element overall.

This week you will be surrounded by the experts in the field -- I encourage you to get to know one another and share your experiences.

And, when you get home, look for opportunities to promote and professionalize the prevention and treatment workforce in your communities and countries.

And make use of this network. It’s up to you to maintain these relationships.

On behalf of the U.S. Government, I want you to know that we’re proud to partner with all of you, with this cause, and to support the work you do. We look forward to continuing the robust drug demand reduction partnerships we have built around the world to tackle this challenge.

We truly appreciate the opportunity to be here with all of you. Thank you for your time, energy, and passion, and, truly, your humanity. Because, ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.