Ret­ri­bu­tion over re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion

Drug users are in need of med­i­cal care, not prison time

Executive Magazine - - Front Page -

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-

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