BEIRUT: Increasing rates of drug addiction in Lebanon pose a severe danger to children, police warned Monday during a conference in Beirut.
Drug rehabilitation and treatment centers are almost nonexistent throughout the Middle East and drug users are often imprisoned instead of provided help.
Police and government officials are now scrambling to provide education and treatment services for people to fight their addiction.
“Fighting the spread of drugs had become a widespread demand by officials and all members of society,” said Col. Adel Mashmoushy from the Internal Security Forces during the opening remarks of the four-day conference, which was co-hosted by Saudi Arabia’s Nayef University.
“Drug abuse in childhood is more hazardous than it might be in later stages of life. It puts limitations on the body’s physical and mental maturity. It also reduces immunity for children,” he said.
A number of ISF members as well as representatives from most Arab nations attended the conference.
The focus of the first day was on drug use and how it impacts children, and what schools and the government can do to help them.
Participants in the conference will discuss how schools can educate children about the dangers of drugs and policies to fight drug use.
“Drugs affect every aspect of the drug user, social, economic, political, cultural and health,” the ISF’s Mashmoushy said.
“Children also may be victims of their parents’ behavior if their parents are drug abusers,” he said.
The conference is scheduled to reconvene several times for more discussions on issues such as widespread drug use among children in Arab countries and the role families can play to help them.
Lebanon is one of the few countries in the region that is home to an in-patient drug rehabilitation center. Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil toured the facility in Kesrouan last week and acknowledged that the government had failed the public in providing treatment services. He pledged support for the cause and announced the launch of a national plan for combating drug addiction at the Grand Serail later this month.
Groups working to fight drug use face tough cultural stigmas that often ignore abuse, or attribute drug use to phenomena such as devil worship.
Groups such as Skoun have long fought those cultural barriers in providing people with support as they battle their drug addiction. Skoun has only recently seen a noticeable increase in the number of people willing to admit they have a problem and seek help.
“The Arab world is full of problems that weigh heavily on the Arab consciousness,” Mashmoushy said. “You are welcomed and even urged to address the root causes of the problem and formulate concrete solutions,” Mashmoushy added.
Mashmoushy blamed the large amount of illicit drugs in Arab countries on political instability, as well as other countries’ inability to control their borders.
Officials have previously sought out international assistance to battle the country’s drug problems. Mashmoushy headed a conference with Australian law enforcement officers about combating drug trafficking in the country several months ago.
Drug traffickers have a large degree of operational license throughout the country, despite the authorities’ regular attempts to launch and sustain crackdowns. Criminal families have operated out of the Bekaa for decades and almost every kind of drug is available here as they move their way to mostly European markets.