Mentor International’s Chair, Yvonne Thunell, recently attended a summit on the global proliferation of narcotics at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. This summit, “Narcotics: Problems and Solutions of This Global Issue,” was requested by Pope Francis to bring together the leading international scientists and practitioners to highlight the global drug epidemic. In this interview, Thunell talks about Mentor’s involvement at the summit, the topics discussed, and the most shocking thing she learned.
A link to access all presentations will be available at the end of the interview.
What was the overall purpose of the summit? Who attended?
Yvonne Thunell (YT): Following a special wish of Pope Francis, the Pontifical Academies of Sciences (PAS) organized this seminar to bring together leading professionals, scientists, experts, medical doctors, researchers, practitioners, members of civil society, judges and academicians to examine and discuss possible innovative solutions to drug-related issues.
Today, substance abuse problems are undeniably topical, since drugs are one of the scourges of our globalized world. The seminar focused specifically on the scientific aspect, such as the consequences of substance abuse on our bodies and brains, as well as the potential medical uses of certain drugs for specific diseases and disorders. Other aspects under discussion included the illicit and relatively easy production of drugs, strategies that fight the conditions fostering the use of drugs, exploitation of young children in criminal organizations that distribute narcotics, and effects of legalization on society. Particular attention was devoted to prevention of substance abuse among children and young people.
How and why was Mentor International involved?
YT: Mentor was involved at the specific request by Pope Francis to HM Queen Silvia since Mentor is the leading international prevention organization for youth. The Pope learned about Mentor when Her Majesty visited the Vatican in 2015. Several meetings between Mentor and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences led up to the formation of the agenda and the invitations to the speakers. Her Majesty introduced the seminar and I spoke on Preventing Drug Addiction in Children and Youth.
One of the main topics was the increasing legalization and decriminalization initiatives, especially of marijuana, in the United States. Can you discuss how the prevention work of Mentor fits into this new paradigm. Is focusing on prevention, especially among people, more important than ever?
YT: The effects of legalization was a topic covered by several scientists from the United States since many states have voted for legalization. It was clear in the presentations that the scientists presented findings on more severe problems related to use of marijuana than have been known earlier. Youth face more severe and long-term damages from marijuana use than adults. The products are packaged and marketed toward young people. As a prevention organization, we have a responsibility to protect youth from all recreational drugs.
Was there anything you learned from the summit that shocked you? What was your biggest takeaway?
YT: The most shocking was the marketing of both marijuana and new psychoactive substances toward the most vulnerable groups in society – children, youth, and poor people. The long-term damages to the brain are also greater than what was earlier known.
How do you think governments, scientists, and NGOs can, or should, work together on this global issue?
YT: I believe there is a need for a while new approach to stop the global epidemic of drug addiction. Addiction creates a chemical slavery which robs the individuals of their will. You can even go as far as to say it hi-jacks the brain and destroys the natural reward system in the brain. Governments, health and education authorities, and local communities need to work together with disseminating information, supporting parents, and particularly supporting children and youth. All NGOs working with youth have a very important role to fill.