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EHYT: Preventive substance abuse work among youth requires investments

group of individuals set against a serene Finnish landscape, capturing the essence of unity and preventive efforts against substance abuse in Finland

05.02.2024 - EHYT emphasizes the need for increased investments in preventive substance abuse work among youth, criticizing the lack of attention to the impacts of substances and gambling on young people's well-being in the national youth work and policy program (VANUPO) for 2024-2027.

The national program for youth work and policy (VANUPO) for the years 2024-2027 has acknowledged the well-being of youth, but has overlooked the effects of substances and gambling on young people's well-being and living environments.

According to the Finnish government program led by Prime Minister Petteri Orpo, special attention is to be paid to preventive mental health and substance abuse work within children and youth activities during the government's term. However, this has been omitted from the VANUPO draft. Societal decision-making should primarily aim to protect young people from the harms associated with substance use.

Despite a partial decrease in substance use among young people, it continues to affect their well-being and mental health in various ways. It's crucial to note the strong division of substance use across different socio-economic groups, highlighting the need for more effective prevention. Policy changes related to gambling systems, alcohol, and new nicotine products pose threats to positive developments, underscoring the importance of investing in preventive substance abuse efforts targeting youth.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has advised Finland to step up measures to curb drug and alcohol use as well as smoking among young people. The Committee also recommends ensuring that children and young people suffering from gambling disorders, gaming addiction, or other forms of internet addiction receive the necessary support. These recommendations from the UN Committee were not addressed in VANUPO. EHYT considers these recommendations crucial for upholding the basic and human rights of children and youth, advocating for their stronger integration into national youth policy.

Youth can experience the negative effects of substance use indirectly, through the substance use of adults, impacting their well-being and sense of security. An estimated 70,000 children or young people live in families where at least one parent struggles with a severe substance abuse problem. The role of civil society organizations in enhancing well-being and safety should be more adequately recognized in VANUPO.

Furthermore, VANUPO fails to set measurable objectives for youth well-being. Clarifying these goals is vital for demonstrating the effectiveness of actions. Achieving significant outcomes also necessitates financial resources, challenged by proposed budget cuts exceeding 200 million euros to youth, sports, and cultural sectors, as well as social and health organizations in the government program.

Adults engaging with youth hold a significant role in preventive substance abuse work. This role should be more prominently recognized, providing those working with youth effective tools to address substance and gambling issues at both the individual and community levels. Comprehensive societal engagement and investments can ensure the healthy development and well-being of youth in the future.

Source: EHYT

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