BEIRUT: Uruguay Street was replete with its signature clatter of heels and clinking of drink glasses Thursday evening, but the Lebanese organization Skoun saw it as an occasion to raise awareness about drug addiction.
A drum band thumped out tunes as onlookers clapped and danced and patrons sitting in nearby bars eased back into conversation after the end of the latest gripping World Cup match. To mark International Drug Day, the bars will donate 10 percent of proceeds to Skoun’s treatment center, where more than 120 patients benefit from rehabilitation services every year, according to the NGO.
To mark the international day, Skoun partnered with the pubs in the popular Uruguay Street to raise awareness about the harms of criminalizing drug addiction, as part of a global advocacy campaign called “Support. Don’t Punish.” The slogan was seen printed on balloons along the narrow street.
“The campaign is about spreading awareness about the harms of criminalizing drug users,” explained one of the event organizers Tatiana Sleiman, who had the German flag painted on her cheek. “Most are young people who need rehabilitation services not jail time.”
She said the event was capitalizing on World Cup fever to raise a targeted $ 8,000 for Skoun’s rehabilitation center.
“I came to drink and watch the game with friends, I had no idea there was an event,” said Nabil, sitting on the patio with four others, “I might as well do it for a good cause.”
Members of Skoun wore t-shirts with the slogan and distributed flyers and pins to spread the word about the cause.
“We want laws that contribute to the service of drug users, not for their punishment. It is more effective and more humane,” Sandy Mteirek, a member of Skoun, told The Daily Star.
Prior to the event at Uruguay Street, a roundtable discussion will be held at Universite Saint Joseph in Monnot from 4 p.m. till 6 p.m. between representatives of rehabilitation centers, hospitals and the police to discuss the procedure for when health institutions receive a patient that has overdosed.
At the moment, “the hospital immediately calls the police, who come and arrest the patient before he received his treatment,” explained Mteirek, Skoun’s drug policy and advocacy coordinator.
“Such action is illegal, deprives the patient from receiving his right for treatment, and violates the physicians’ code of ethics,” she added.
Asked about Lebanon’s drug policies compared to other countries, Mteirek said the state’s policies were relatively good. “At least the law considers drug addiction a sickness, and a person having an overdose has the right to immediate treatment before being arrested,” she said.
But the good laws are translated into bad implementation, she added. “The government does not truly implement the laws, and it oppresses the addicted ... oppression is not at all effective in this case.”
Skoun looks forward to a reform of the current policies laws, and in collaboration with all rehab centers in Lebanon, she proposed a draft law that has been presented to the members of Parliament.
“It was not signed yet,” Mteirek said. “We are waiting for the Parliament to be reactivated, then MPs can sign it and it goes into discussion.”