Lebanon News

Nonprofit center offers addicts fresh start

A recovering addict at Oum el-Nour tends to geese, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

SEHAILEH, Lebanon: Like many students about to graduate, Fadi is a bit nervous. The young Beirut resident is getting ready to find a job and make something of himself. But Fadi is not like any other graduate. Fadi, 25, is recovering from addiction to drugs. In four months he will graduate from Oum el-Nour, a drug rehabilitation facility in Kesrouan, just north of Beirut.

Although he is entering the working world with fewer skills than many university graduates his age, he has prevailed over significant challenges and is lucky to be alive.

Fadi started drinking when he was 18 years old. Alcohol led to hashish, which eventually led to cocaine. He took advantage of his friends, he lied and he stole to support his habit.

“I knew I was going to end up dead, in prison or in treatment,” he said Wednesday at a news conference organized by Oum el-Nour.

A young woman who was in treatment at Oum el-Nour told Fadi about the program one night while she was buying salvia – a hallucinogenic plant-based drug – from him. But he said at the time he still wasn’t ready to kick his habits.

It was only when he was stabbed in the leg during one particularly violent night that he decided it was time to visit Oum el-Nour.

Oum el-Nour is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization that seeks to help those addicted to drugs recover and reintegrate socially and economically into their communities. It was founded in 1989 and had treated more than 6,695 patients by 2016. It reaches over 20,000 people each year through its prevention programs. About 35 percent of its $3.5 million budget is covered by the government, the rest, by donors.

Oum el-Nour’s in-patient rehabilitation centers are the crown jewels of the program. The center in Sehaileh, for men, has the capacity for 72 patients. The center in Fatka caters to women and houses up to 36 patients.

Patients come from all socio-economic strata. Over half live in Beirut, and range in age from about 14 to 45, with most in their mid-20s.

Nearly 85 percent of patients are cannabis users, followed by alcohol (71 percent), cocaine (63 percent) and amphetamines (45 percent).

However, it isn’t just illicit drug users who seek treatment. The Lebanese use twice the amount of prescription drugs compared to rates set by the World Health Organization, according to the National Health Authority. Some 9.6 percent of the Lebanese consume the highly addictive benzodiazepine, according to Ismail Sukkarieh, head of the NHA.

Oum el-Nour patients are expected to abstain from alcohol and drugs while they work to methodically address the underlying issues that led to their addiction.

“We learn red lines [limits] here,” Fadi said. “I examined the factors that led to my condition.”

With the aim of instilling discipline and a sense of pride, patients are required to wake up at specific times, keep their beds and cupboards orderly and to be productive.

Art and music therapy are on offer, as well as classes in valuable skills. Patients also keep busy tending to animals on the property and maintaining the grounds.

“We give them confidence here,” said Naji Mansour, head of the prevention program. “We turn their lives around.”

Fadi said he’s not sure what exactly he’s going to do when he graduates from the program.

But part of the preparation is learning how to cope with returning to the environment and people that were part of his life when it was dominated by addiction.

“It’s best not to go back to the old peers,” said Ziad Khouri, director of the men’s rehabilitation center. “He needs to make new friends, establish himself. He must minimize triggers [that compel drug use].”

Drug possession or consumption in Lebanon is punishable by three months to three years’ prison and carries a stigma that can ruin relationships and employment prospects. Fadi said he’s fortunate that his record is clean.

Meanwhile, he is proud of his progress and is keeping busy. His long-term plan is to start a business, and as most of his experience is in bars and kitchens, his sights are set on opening a restaurant.

“But first I need to learn my limits again,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 28, 2017, on page 3.




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