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In violation of govt policy, 80 pct of hospitals report drug overdoses to police


Published by The Daily Star
Original Article here.


BEIRUT: Nearly 80 percent of hospitals report patients who seek care for drug overdoses to security forces – in violation of a 2016 circular that orders them not to – a recent survey by a local drug treatment and advocacy group found.

“It’s the hospitals’ policy versus people’s lives,” Sandy Mteirik, a drug policy development manager at Skoun Lebanese Addictions Center, which conducted the survey, told The Daily Star Monday.

“Fear of arrest hinders access to services. People who know that hospitals will call the police are less likely to come to the emergency room ... and they could die. This can turn a preventable death into a fatal overdose,” she said.

Skoun’s survey found that out of the 133 hospitals surveyed across Lebanon, 29 did not report overdose cases to authorities. Of these, 10 are in Beirut, eight in Metn, five in Jbeil, two in Zahle and one each in Tripoli, Zgharta, Chouf and Sidon.

In 2016, the Health Ministry issued Circular 46, which called on hospitals to cease the longtime practice of reporting drug overdoses to authorities. But caretaker Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani told The Daily Star Monday that a lack of awareness has been hampering the directive’s implementation, despite his ministry’s work to encourage a shift from the criminalization of drug use toward the treatment of addicts.

“We have a problem in that the law still criminalizes drug abuse, but we’re moving in the right direction.

“The criminal is for the most part the dealer, and he should be pursued. But for users, we should rehabilitate them instead of putting them in jail,” Hasbani said.

Proponents of drug decriminalization in Lebanon received a boost in June when one of the country’s highest judges issued a memo ordering regional public prosecutors to comply with a law allowing those arrested for drug abuse to be referred to the National Addiction Committee instead of the authorities.

The NAC, an interministerial body established five years ago and headquartered at the Justice Ministry, is tasked with referring suspects to treatment and overseeing the treatment process. There are some 2,500 people arrested each year for drug abuse.

Hasbani said he could not comment on the specifics of Skoun’s survey, but said his ministry was involved in ongoing efforts to raise awareness of its decriminalization stance. He said the ministry encouraged hospitals to “report directly to organizations that help drug addicts.” However, he added that no punitive measures could be leveled on hospitals that violated the circular’s order.

Mteirik said that while many hospitals had said they were unaware of the circular, others had said they knew of it, but had decided to maintain an internal policy of reporting overdose cases to authorities.

A major problem with handing over to authorities those who have drug issues, and particularly those who have recently overdosed, is the lack of facilities and specialized training in Lebanese police stations and in the ranks of the Internal Security Forces, according to Mteirik.

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