Could you briefly describe your organization and the general approaches you take when working on drug use prevention?
The Office for Combating Drugs is responsible for implementing drug policy and coordinating relevant institutions in the field of drug policy in Serbia. We participate in developing national strategies and action plans on combating drugs, and the current focus is on prevention. The Office for Combating Drugs strives to involve many different state institutions, organizations, and civil society organizations to develop national documents and implement drug policy because the multisectoral approach to the drug problem has shown the most efficient and effective results. We emphasize the involvement of multiple sectors in our work on prevention as well. We see the need for decentralization of drug policies and seek to involve as many institutions and organizations at the local level as possible.

How would you assess drug use prevalence in Serbia, and what are your focus areas regarding  drug use prevention?
The latest ESPAD (European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs) survey conducted in Serbia showed that the situation is similar with most European countries. In some areas, though, such as cannabis use, the percentage of use is lower than in most European countries. Nevertheless, the need for evidence-based prevention, adaptation of prevention programs to modern challenges, and a multisectoral approach has been demonstrated to reduce the risky behavior of young people. Therefore, our office cooperates with institutions in the field of drug prevention in the implementation of various projects and programs, and in the development of a national prevention program. In addition, we have signed a memorandum of cooperation with 15 civil society organizations (CSOs) that focus on prevention. In collaboration with CSOs, we participate in various projects, seminars, and conferences, to raise awareness and inform citizens about the consequences of drug abuse. And of course, cooperation with international institutions and organizations such as EMCDDA and UNODC enables the implementation and monitoring of modern trends in prevention.

Could you describe the steps taken and involvement of stakeholders to prepare the launch of ‘Listen First’ in Serbia?
The Office for Combating Drugs developed a national strategy involving many sectors to implement and promote ‘Listen First’ in Serbia. Joint actions are envisaged by state institutions responsible for the fight against drugs,  family, raising children,  and health.  ‘Listen First’ is an important tool in drug prevention because its wide range of potential audiences includes parents, teachers, educators, and health workers. Interestingly, the project highlights the importance of developing life skills, focusing on families with children by creating healthy environments for raising children, creating fun routines, and actively listening to them, which all interconnect on successfully preventing drug use.

With the launch of ‘Listen First’, what further steps or events do you foresee coming soon?
The Office for Combating Drugs launched a global ‘Listen First’ campaign. Following an initial meeting with potential partners, we are holding preparatory meetings with state institutions to agree on the implementation. It was agreed with the Ministry of Health to start by September within its national prevention program through workshops with children and parents throughout Serbia. ‘Listen First’ materials will complement the activities of the national prevention program.
In addition, it was agreed with the Ministry of Education and other state institutions to distribute ‘Listen First’ materials to institutions and promote them on the websites and social media networks of the relevant state bodies.

Do you have some recommendations for other countries who are also interested in launching ‘Listen First’?
I would recommend ‘Listen First’, because it presents a unique opportunity for mutual cooperation for all institutions and organizations in child education and drug policies. This type of program and multisectoral collaboration enable the whole society’s involvement in raising awareness of the need for proper education by encouraging a variety of life skills, which contributes to children’s health and the health of society as a whole. I would especially like to express my gratitude that Serbia received the honor of translating this global project into Serbian and that the Office for Combating Drugs was recognized as an institution that will contribute to its quality implementation.

Milan Pekić is the Director of the Office for Combating Drugs in the Republic of Serbia. He graduated from the Criminal Police Academy in Belgrade, majoring in criminology, and from the Higher Studies of Security and Defense, within the School of National Defense, the University of Defense in Belgrade. He spent most of his career in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, performing work related to drug abuse.

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