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Survey finds one in four young Lebanese has used illicit drugs


Published by The Daily Star
Original Article here.


BEIRUT: One in four young Lebanese people has tried an illicit substance or a drug not prescribed to them, and 60 percent say they are able to find such drugs easily, according to the results of a recent survey on drug use in the country. Still, responses were split on how much those guilty of illegal drug use should be punished.

“That’s a huge number, and it means that this one-in-four man or woman is at risk of being arrested, detained and prosecuted for drug use,” Sandy Mteirik, a drug policy development manager at Skoun, which carried out the online survey, published Thursday, explained to The Daily Star.

At the same time, “when more than 50 percent say it’s very easy or easy to get drugs, the question becomes: How efficient is the current drug control effort?” she said.

The survey was self-administered online, and was carried out from May to September of last year. The release of its results coincides with the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

Of the 3,274 respondents - 60 percent of whom were ages 20 to 30 - exactly 25 percent reported having used an illicit drug or a drug that was not prescribed.

About 51 percent reported being able to obtain illicit substances easily, and a further 9 percent said they were able to very easily, while only 40 percent said they did not find obtaining illegal drugs easy.

The survey showed that cannabis was the most used illegal drug in Lebanon, with 23 percent of respondents saying they had used it at least once. Meanwhile, 65 percent of respondents had tried tobacco products and 54 percent had used alcohol.

At 9 percent, opium and pain medications came in at the fourth-most-used drug, followed by benzodiazepines and tranquilizers, at 6 percent, and then cocaine and salvia, both at 5 percent.

Ecstasy and MDMA had been used by about 4 percent of respondents, psychedelic mushrooms by 3 percent and LSD and stimulants by 2 percent. Mteirik said these numbers were generally in line with international averages.

The survey also found that young Lebanese people - ages 18 to 35 - are split on how the state should treat people who have used drugs illegally.

Asked whether the government should punish those who have used an illicit substance, 44 percent said no, 39 percent said yes and 16 percent said they were unsure.

Sixty-eight percent of the same respondents said they knew someone who had been arrested for illicit drug use, while 7 percent reported having been arrested themselves.

Mteirik attributed the split in the results to potential confusion about the difference between the full legalization of drug use on the one hand, and the simple decriminalization of drugs on the other.

“We are at a time when, in Lebanon, legalization is not accepted. I think the majority would agree we need to stop criminalizing drug users, but people wouldn’t agree that we legalize drugs,” Mteirik said.

Legalization, generally speaking, means that drugs currently illegal in Lebanon, such as cannabis, could be regulated and sold freely, as has taken place in recent years in a few countries including Canada and Uruguay.

By contrast, the decriminalization of drugs simply means that those caught with drugs or suspected of drug use are not arrested and prosecuted as criminals. This is more widespread globally, especially in Europe.

On the occasion of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the Health Ministry threw its support behind treatment for those with addiction.

“The Health Ministry stresses that a person who has an addiction is not a criminal; rather, [he is] a person suffering from a health issue and require health and social care to recover,” a tweet from the ministry’s official account said.

Rabih El Chammay, head of the ministry’s National Mental Health Program, reiterated this message to The Daily Star. “Services should be available, and we have to push attitudes in this direction [toward treating drug abuse as a health issue],” he said.

But Mteirik said that progress to that end had been slow, even after advocates last year received a potentially large boost from Lebanon’s top prosecutor, Samir Hammoud, who ordered regional prosecutors to refer those suspected of drug abuse to the National Addiction Committee, an interministerial body that sends drug users to treatment, instead of to the criminal justice system.

“Unfortunately, the circular Hammoud sent was not well implemented,” she said.

Only about 3 percent of the roughly 2,500 people arrested for drug abuse each year in Lebanon have been sent to the committee since it was established in 2013, while the rest make their way through the criminal system, according to stats provided by Skoun. “We know the trauma, we know the fear, we know the barriers,” Michelle Wazan, the coordinator of Skoun’s drug policy department, said.

“To us it’s really important to allow young people in Lebanon to have a chance at not being punished for something that is not their choice and that is ultimately just harming them.”

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