The United Nations anti-drug agency stepped up its efforts to advance drug dependence treatment today, reaching into the United States’ famed Kennedy family to pick a spokesman with first-hand experience to raise awareness about the issue.
At a press conference in Vienna, Austria, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, announced the appointment of the US actor and author Christopher Kennedy Lawford – a nephew of the late President John F.Kennedy – as Goodwill Ambassador on Drug Dependence Treatment and Care.
“We all talk at length about the real and incredibly difficult challenges of people hooked on substances – Mr. Kennedy Lawford knows first hand how it feels and his journey and experience as an actor, author and advocate show us that there is a way out and that treatment and care can work,” Mr. Fedotov said.
“I believe that his profile is highly suitable for the Office’s purpose, which is to raise awareness of the importance of drug dependence treatment and giving it the broad support it deserves.”
Mr. Fedotov made the announcement on the sidelines of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the UN’s policy-making body for drug-related matters, which is meeting in Vienna this week. During his two-year appointment, Mr. Kennedy Lawford will focus on raising public awareness and generating support for UNODC’s global programmes aimed at drug demand reduction, drug dependence treatment and care.
“There is a world full of people who have found a way out of the hell of addiction to a better life. Their story needs to be told. As a Goodwill Ambassador for UNODC, I want to use my experience and advocacy to bring a message of hope and empowerment to those affected by drug use and dependence throughout the world,” said Mr. Kennedy Lawford on his appointment.
In an interview with the UN News Centre’s Newsmaker series, the new Goodwill Ambassador added: “I’ve been enormously blessed in my life to be born to a situation where I was given a lot of advantage, a lot of advantage that normal folks don’t get just because of an accident of birth. I realize that and in my family, we grew up with the adage ‘to whom much is given, much is expected,’ so I don’t ever look at this as anything but a blessing. I think celebrity in our world – and I have a little bit of celebrity, there are plenty of people who are much more well-known than I am that they [UNODC] could have gotten – I think what I bring to this is somebody who is committed, who understands this from a variety of different perspectives, and who is really going to work hard at it because I believe in it.”
The new Goodwill Ambassador has worked in Hollywood and Washington as an actor, writer, lawyer, activist and public speaker. Much of his early life was a struggle with drug and alcohol addiction and he is also involved in helping inspire and motivate substance users to kick their drug habits.
“I have been fortunate enough to have access to good treatment services that helped me recover from drug dependence,” Mr. Kennedy Lawford said. “Such services are also very much needed for people in low- and middle-income countries, including those especially vulnerable to drug use and dependence, like poor people, or those living in marginalized communities.”
UNODC has been developing a health-centred and evidence-based approach to the help people affected by drugs. The agency says that drug use and dependence is a public health issue with a serious impact on public health, development and security and it has the ultimate goal of universal access for drug dependence treatment and care for all those affected by addiction.
In a statement issued in Vienna on Tuesday, the US Director of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, welcomed UNODC’s appointment of Mr. Kennedy Lawford.
“For years, Chris has worked tirelessly to reduce the stigma associated with the disease of addiction, and to give a voice to the millions of Americans who struggle with drug and alcohol dependence,” Mr. Kerlikowske said. “As someone in successful recovery from addiction, Chris will serve as a powerful advocate for the hope and strength drug treatment can provide to people across the globe who are suffering from this disease.”