SHAILE, Lebanon: Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said Tuesday he plans to launch a new strategy to tackle the issue of drug abuse and treatment on a national scale early next month by expanding the accessibility of treatment.
Khalil spoke during a visit to the the Um al-Nour drug rehabilitation center in Kesrouan to offer his support for one of the only drug rehabilitation programs in the region, signaling significant changes in the government’s handling of drug abuse.
Khalil took a tour of the facility, met with patients and pledged increased financial assistance for the center that he said does important work to battle an increasing problem of drug addiction in the country.
The minister’s remarks, and his acknowledgement of a “state failure” to treat people in need, are part of a sea change in attitudes toward the country’s largely unaddressed drug problem and could renew efforts to combat it.
“We met with young citizens and we confirmed to them that they are citizens just like us, and are sick people deserving all of our attention to save them from this scourge that afflicts our society.”
The Um al-Nour center is high and deep in the mountains of Kesrouan in the town of Shaile, it offers the only overnight rehabilitation program in Lebanon and is one of the few to offer such services in the Middle East. The center receives most of its funds from the Lebanese government.
Around 90 men and women receive help at the center that offers counseling and therapy for people who have detoxified from their addiction and want to remain clean.
Drug addiction has been on the rise in Lebanon in recent years. This year, the city of Sidon has seen a marked increase of drug addicts on the streets and derelict buildings used as drug warren, causing alarm among residents.
He called for addicts and families to come forward to seek aid for their loved ones and solve the serious problem.
“It’s required that all of us support one another for the future of our youth and our country,” Khalil said.
As the number of drug addicts continues to climb, advocates for rehabilitation and treatment face stiff social stigmas when addressing the problem in public. Many people are unwilling to acknowledge drug use as a problem.
Um al-Nour’s general director Danielle Karam said Khalil’s pledge meant important state support that was needed to tackle the drug problem.
“The minister on this day, International Day Against Drugs, reassured his support to Um al-Nour and to the program and all the results we get with men and women,” Karam said. “The minister’s visit was very important for us today because we are the only association supported by the Health Ministry,” she added.
Karam said people come from all over the region and wait for long periods of time to get into the rehabilitation center.
The cost for foreign patients is around $1,000 but for Lebanese it’s free because of financial support from the Health and Social Affairs ministries. The centers’ demographics range widely but Karam said 25 percent of patients are students.
The main goal of the center is to entirely beat a patient’s addiction.
“Our main objective is to get patients abstinent, totally, without any substitution,” Karam said.
Drug users typically end up in prison instead of being offered treatment programs for their addiction. Organizations like Um al-Nour and the outpatient center Skoun have pushed for more treatment minded solutions to the country’s drug problem.
The Um al-Nour center is expanding its facility’s offerings to combat the problem.
“We have a new service addressed to users and abusers, an outpatient center that will be launched in the next months,” Karam said.