BEIRUT: Lebanese society must help, rather than shun drug addicts, religious and municipal figures said Thursday.
Speaking at an event to mobilize the Lebanese around growing substance-abuse problems, representatives also urged the government to make good on its promise to rehabilitate addicts.
Statistics about addictions in Lebanon do not exist, but field workers estimate there are about 10,000 people with addictions. Drugs are easily accessible and relatively cheap – heroin costs around $20 per gram and cocaine about $100 per gram.
The country’s “tremendous rise” in drug use has not been met with sufficient moves to provide treatment, said Nadya Mikdashi, director of the addictions rehabilitation center SKOUN. With funding from the UNDP Peace Building Project, the organization is running a project with religious and municipal leaders to campaign for greater respect for drug addicts.
Although the 1998 narcotics law stipulates that those with drug addictions are to be considered to be suffering from an illness, and not criminals, the provision is rarely upheld. The law says those suffering from addiction should be sent to state-run rehabilitation clinics. As there are only a handful of non-governmental organizations providing treatment, addicts usually end up in prison. According to SKOUN, 24.3 percent of prisoners in Lebanon are drug addicts.
The figures show that the Lebanese government is failing drug addicts, said Chantal Chedid, coordinator of SKOUN’s prevention department. While there are 2,000 known women drug addicts, only 30 places exist for them in rehabilitation centers, according to the Association for Justice and Compassion.. In total, less than 700 addicts are currently benefitting from treatment.
The fact that Lebanese society still views addiction as a taboo hindered efforts to provide for those in need, Mikdashi said. “Stigma plays a very large role in our ability to look at addiction. We must do away with the disgrace to overcome our fears and to look at addiction as a public-health issue that must be addressed through education and effective treatments.”
She noted that the authorities had not even taken the fundamental step of authorizing rehabilitation clinics to use substitute treatments like methadone and subutex, despite legalizing the treatments two years ago.
Sami Abi al-Mona, secretary general of the Al-Irfaan Association and head of the Cultural Committee of the Druze Sect Council called the current treatment of addicts “shameful” and demanded the authorities end the imprisonment of addicts. So long as the incarcerations continued, prisons need to become “rehabilitation centers and places of hope and recovery, instead of revenge,” he said.
In recent months, SKOUN has held workshops with religious and municipal leaders to stimulate dialogue and enhance community awareness on addiction. As part of the campaign to break the taboo surrounding drug addiction, SKOUN will soon be screening awareness adverts on television. The advert, to be aired in the coming weeks, features 12 religious leaders urging their communities to help addicts.
“Addicts are not criminals. They are victims who should be treated,” said Abdel-Salam al-Khalil, deputy mayor of Ghobeiri Municipality.