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.