Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #31: Shooting Gallery



The Light

I stumbled upon this shooting gallery the other day. I'm talking about heroine, not guns. The building, in shambles, looked like some tragic beauty, a casualty of one war or another. Vacant buildings are common in Beirut, though there are usually people, or police, posted up all around, so I don't normally step into them. This one, though, has clearly been forsaken.

As I approached the entrance, a strong smell overtook me. I don't know how, or why, exactly, but the smell of human feces is distinct. I stepped, carefully, through the weeds & crossed the threshold. The floor was littered with toilet paper, cigarettes, plastic water bottles, aluminum cans and hypodermic needles. There were a few cans still overturned, the residue of cooked narcotic visible.

Drug use in Lebanon is a major social taboo. The government tends to deal with it in two ways: harsh mandatory sentences, on the one hand, and pretending it doesn't exist on the other. According to Menahra (Middle East & North Africa Harm Reduction Network)
Drug use, or even possession of a drug, is a legal offence whose sentence is 3 months to 1 year of prison
 Drug users have the right for voluntary detoxification, but relapse is not allowed
 Police treatment at arrest is inappropriate
 Only approved treatment is detoxification, no substitution treatment is available, methadone is illegal

One of the major fears is that the HIV rate will climb. A few reports have come out recently to this affect, and they all mention that the main difficulty is that the laws are proving to be prohibitive not to drug use, but to treatment and tracking of infections. Users live and use in secret, and fear punishment, so they don't seek treatment. In addition, needle sharing is common.
 64.7% have ever borrowed a syringe
 59.6% borrowed a syringe within the month prior to the interview
 76% are sexually active:
• 32.9% have had a commercial sex partner in the past month
• 24.7% had male-male sex
• 39.3% reported consistent use of condoms with commercial sex partners and 5.8% with regular sex partner
 High level of awareness of HIV/AIDS modes of transmission and methods of prevention

There is a growing call for a harm reduction approach to drug use here, and hopefully it will be heeded. For, the last thing this country needs is another unwinnable war.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Trevor Baumgartner,
we, at MENAHRA, would like to thank you for highlighting on the issue of drug use in Lebanon. And also we are inviting you to visit our website www.menahra.org that features harm reduction strategies we are trying to implement at the regional level in the MENA region, in addition to newsletters that contain testimonials of ex-drug users. Furthermore, if you are interested in receiving news from us on a regular basis please send us your email address on : info@menahra.org
Thank you
Micheline Abou Chrouch
Interim Secretariat of MENAHRA