BEIRUT: The Cedar Rehab Center in Hammana looks like a luxurious country villa from the outside, which is exactly what founder Ahmad Khattab intended.
Khattab, a recovered addict himself, is seeking to broaden the option of therapies available based on international standards and offer an upscale alternative for those seeking treatment for substance abuse.
“I was introduced to drugs at a very early age, with no one to guide me,” he said of his motivation for starting the center. “I had to overcome many challenges to finally get out of this cycle. My goal is to spread the message now.”
The eight-bedroom, five-bathroom villa includes a gym, recreationalfacilities, pharmacy and rolling lawn. The spa-like environment is intended to host up to 14 patients for periods of one to three months.
The 24-member staff includes psychiatrists, counselors, gym instructors, drama and art therapists, and recovery support assistants.
Recovery support assistants are recovered addicts who act as mentors to those still battling addiction. Khattab said he had a difficult time finding qualified individuals in Lebanon, where drug use is extremely taboo and many people do not like to openly discuss their battles toward sobriety.
“RSAs are a very crucial part in the therapy process,” Khattab said. “They really know how to deal with patients because they’ve been in their shoes before.”
“We’re so proud to have found supporters who are willing to share their experience with us. This is a real treasure,” he added.
The program at the Cedar Center was inspired by facilities Khattab visited abroad, where he was impressed with the variety and range of therapies.
“There are endless various approaches and programs to cure addictions, what we’re doing involves only one approach,” Khattab said.
Khattab claims Cedar is the first privately funded, fully equipped rehabilitation center in Lebanon. With a price tag of $7,000 a month, it is not a cheap option. The center does not accept charitable donations.
Khattab was aware of the prohibitive cost, but said top-quality care required a significant investment.
“Our numbers were very delicately studied to include all the privileged services. We have also cooperated with sponsors willing to cover more than half of the patient’s expenses,” Khattab said. “The purpose [of charging] is not to profit, but to achieve continuity.”
“We’ve been working on this project for three years. It wasn’t easy accomplishing this in a country like Lebanon,” he added.
The center was inaugurated in November under the patronage of caretaker Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi and will begin accepting patients in early February. It is now on the list of government-approved treatment centers, allowing nonviolent drug offenders to seek care there instead of going to jail.
Last year, the judiciary finally activated the National Committee for Combating Addiction outlined in Law 673, otherwise known as the Drug Law. The five-person committee, headed by Judge Randa Kfoury, is charged with overseeing the recovery of nonviolent drug offenders so that charges against them are dropped if they complete treatment at a government-approved center.
However, advocates complain that the policy is not being implemented across the board, with some judges refusing to give detainees the option of treatment.
“Even though this policy was established a while ago, it’s not being fully applied,” said Khattab, who also advocates for drug policyreform.
“Only the prisoners with connections get this ‘optional choice,” and that’s not fair. We are working through our team of lawyers to make this law reach all arrested addicts, not just the privileged ones.”