SIDON, Lebanon: Authorities in south Lebanon confirm that the area has witnessed an outbreak of drug use among youth in recent years despite efforts by security forces, local communities and NGOs to combat the issue.
Though the phenomenon of drug addiction transcends all religious communities and sects in the country, it is most prevalent in regions where poverty, social marginalization, unemployment and high-school dropout rates are the norm.
Civil society organizations, in cooperation with the security forces, exert enormous efforts to combat drug use and limit its spread.
In the latest bid to combat drug use in Sidon, Future Movement leader Fouad Siniora has led an initiative to form a local council that will oversee a health center to prevent drug use, treat and rehabilitate addicts.
The center will work to integrate addicts back into society once they have recovered and provide further assistance to those in need of more treatment.
The council, which has already begun receiving cases, will refer more severe patients to a specialized center if there is a need.
The inauguration could not be timelier, as security reports show a rising number of drug-related arrests in the city. However, the center will have to face the fact that 75 percent of rehabilitated patie nts will have a relapse.
Maj. Henri Mansour, the head of the Anti-Drug Bureau in southern Lebanon, told The Daily Star that the number of drug-related arrests reached a record high last year with 513 arrests, compared to 312 and 426 in 2011 and 2010 respectively.
The first three months of this year alone has seen the arrest of 110 people on drug-related charges, he said.
According to his statistics, Mansour said the highest percentage of abusers is aged between 20 and 30 years.
Describing the most popular illicit drugs in the market, he said: “There are sedative substances like hashish and heroine, hallucinogens like hashish, LSD and Mescaline, stimulant substances like cocaine, GHB, amphetamines and ecstasy.”
However, the most abused substances in Lebanon remain hashish, cocaine and heroin, with a recent rise in the use of ecstasy, he said. The drugs are usually sniffed, chewed or injected.
“The youth get involved usually by chance or at entertainment centers after drinking alcohol, through accidental abuse or they are lured into using drugs,” he said, adding that there are cases when drugs are placed in drinks and foods covertly, without the user’s knowledge.
Usually the causes behind an individual’s drug use is related to disputes within the family, political tragedies, and the general lack of social deterrents due to widespread ignorance.
He also said that “boredom, the desire to try the drug, and the incorrect belief that drugs can heighten sexual pleasure” are additional factors contributing to drug use, as are “degrading spiritual and educational values, and in some cases the abundance of wealth, uncensored Internet use, immigration and imitating the behavior of others.”
Students especially are at risk with peer pressure from friends at university, as well as when family members are also drug users.
Mansour said that there are “a lot of cases in which abusers graduate from hashish to heroine and there are cases in which they try more than one type of drug,” noting that the phenomenon is found in all levels of society.
He also said that there are new methods for using marijuana, cocaine and opium.
“There is an increase in the cases of overdose with seven documented cases in the last three years,” he said, adding that a rising number of Palestinians and young girls are among those arrested on drug-related charges.
He also added that “the phenomenon is also increasing within neighborhoods in Sidon, when it was once only a phenomenon witnessed in impoverished neighborhoods.”
Mansour said drug use often lead to other crimes because drug users often feel obliged to commit crimes in order to secure funds to feed their addiction.
“In some cases, drug users turn to drug dealing to secure their fix.”