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A Silent Killer

January 6, 2011 by  


By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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The transparent nature of media outlets covering the issues of drug addiction and abuse in America transcends all social classes and socioeconomic statuses. Most Americans have basic knowledge about drug use in their country and ways in which various levels of the government are trying to combat the epidemic. It’s not surprising that drug addiction and the negative effects of it are portrayed on both the small and silver screens. And why talk shows like “ The Dr. Phil Show” and reality TV programming like “Celebrity Rehab” have gained such a cult status for fighting drug addiction in all forms. In America, drug abuse may be an uphill battle for society to grapple with but at least the problem is thrust into the spotlight for everyone to see. Most importantly, there are countless community programs and rehabilitation centers where addicts can find help.

Just an ocean away, in the Middle East, drug addiction and abuse is a taboo topic that is rarely talked about. Instead, it is swept under the carpet with many governments citing that any form of reliance on illegal substances is forbidden in Islam. The reality, however, is that drug abuse is rampant in the Middle East with even average Muslims falling prey to the allure of drugs. Some of the most popular drugs of choice in the region include opiates like heroin and stimulants like marijuana.  However, amphetamines are the most sought after. Saudi Arabia, for example, has the world’s largest rate of amphetamine drug confiscations. In 2010, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime published The World Drug Report. According to the report, Saudi authorities confiscated 12.8 metric tons of amphetamines from would-be distributors. The report also revealed that the Middle East as a whole was able to prevent a startling 15.3 metric tons of narcotics from entering its’ city streets. And those figures only take into account the amount of drugs that authorities were able to discover. There is no data available for the drugs that were distributed in the streets of Middle Eastern nations like Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE.

However, the web that drug addiction weaves around users has already begun to unravel in a spate of drug-related deaths that have brought in 2011 with foreboding gloom. This past week a man was found dead in his home of an apparent “accidental” heroin overdose in Kuwait. And in Oman a 16-year-old boy succumbed to a heroin overdose this week. A 30-year-old man, who confessed after being apprehended by the police, dumped the teenager’s corpse behind a hospital in the kingdom. According to the man, he and the victim would get “high” on heroin on a regular basis.

Despite the blatant evidence of rampant drug abuse issues, many Middle Eastern governments have been slow to react to the social aspects of the burgeoning drug abuse problem that is set to cripple the region just as it has in other parts of the world. It’s true that most Middle Eastern countries exercise a zero tolerance policy for drug smugglers and distributors, with the penalty for either crimes being punishable by death. However, public awareness about drug abuse is lacking and a social infrastructure to help addicts is all but non-existent.

Arab parents have little information regarding illicit drugs or where to go for assistance, in the event help is even available in their particular region. For most parents and even adult addicts looking for help, there is little recourse but to go to the nearest police station to put an end to the addict’s drug supply line. However, once the police are involved, the addict is arrested for using drugs and imprisoned. Rehab is not an option and drugs can still be smuggled into most prisons for a price. For the foreseeable future, parents and friends of addicts in the Middle East must cope on their own in a war that they are ill equipped to fight.

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