Retribution over rehabilitation
Drug users are in need of medical care, not prison time
Drug use in Lebanon is said to be prevalent but remains difficult to define. An estimate from a 2012 report by the Institute of Health Management and Social Protection at Saint Joseph University in Beirut suggested that the “number of drug users in Lebanon ranges from 10000 to 15000 and that this figure is continuously increasing.” The leading drugs of choice are heroin, cannabis and cocaine, the report concluded, and statistics corroborate a high incidence of those drugs among arrested users. Looking at the statistics on user-related arrests gives a tip-of-theiceberg snapshot of the problem but gaps in the data obscure its real size and challenges efforts to push progressive alternatives, like rehabilitating drug users instead of jailing them, forward.
When arrested, anecdotes by drug users describe maltreatment during detainment at the hands of the Lebanese police. One such story was recounted by Sadecc Choucair who admits, in his self-published book, he was under the influence of alcohol at the time of his detainment – a fact that may have altered his recollection of the incident. In telling his story Choucair alleges entrapment and wrongful detention by the Internal Security Forces, Lebanon’s national police, although Executive could not corroborate this.
On Christmas Eve 2013 Choucair was having drinks at his neighborhood watering hole when he received a telephone call from a close friend in search of a quick fix. In ten minutes I’ll be there, the friend said, though Choucair had told him he wasn’t carrying any weed. Not a dealer, Choucair was a university student that smoked recreationally with no prior run ins with the law. What transpired next, according to his recount, was less a friendly catch up and more an ambush planned by the authorities. The police arrested Choucair and hauled him down the street to the drug unit’s holding cells at Makhfar Hobeish (Ras Beirut police station). There, detectives questioned Choucair, coercing an admission of drug use and forcing him to spill the names of his dealer and others he knew who smoked.
Local advocates say Lebanon’s drug control regime is repressive, the judicial process opaque, with little emphasis on harm reduction and quality of life for drug addicts. There are significant gaps in the data for several important indicators: the number of drug use-related prosecutions, the number of individuals incarcerated for drug offenses, the number of rehabilitated users, and the efficacy of treatment programs in terms of cost and success rates, and the effect of rehabilitation, instead of incarceration, on crime rates. While data for Lebanon is limited, studies from other countries show strong correlation that rehabilitating users is cheaper than incarcerating them, that crime rates drop when drug offenders are treated for addiction instead of sent to jail and that personal lives improve significantly when the government focuses on harm reduction over criminal punishment. Advocates in Lebanon point to small victories that have advanced the issue but say significant obstacles remain.
Choucair’s account falls in line with the findings of torture and abuse in Lebanon’s police stations and de-