Experts Urge Proper Care For Drug Addicts

Experts Urge Proper Care For Drug Addicts
Posted by FoM on November 29, 1999 at 06:53:54 PT
By Zeina Mobassaleh, Daily Star Staff 
Source: The Daily Star
Drug abusers should be treated as patients, not criminals, and rehabilitation programs should replace imprisonment, according to experts addressing the need to curtail the illegal use of drugs. 
Physicians from the region’s health ministries and hospitals convened at the Marriott Hotel for a three-day World Health Organization conference exploring the problem of drug use and HIV infection. The conference ended on Saturday with a list of recommendations to be implemented at a country-wide level. “Drug users are humans, too, and have rights,” said M.T. Abu Saleh, clinical director for sddiction services at the St. George’s Medical School in London. “The Universal Declaration for the Mentally Ill enumerates their human rights. They’re entitled to the best healthcare and shouldn’t be treated as criminals.” Abu Saleh said drug addiction was the “most serious mental disorder” and needed specialized care. Samia Ghazawi, director of the Lebanese Health Ministry’s drug directorate, agreed: “We have to say clearly that substance abusers are sick so that we can better insure their right to rehabilitation.” Lebanon’s law on drug abuse now conforms to international standards. In 1998, a new law replaced 1946 legislation that considered all drug users as criminals. Today, they are given the option between rehabilitation and imprisonment. Although drug-prevention programs have traditionally focused on cutting the supply of drugs, governments now prefer to establish centers that provide treatment for abuse. “Supply reduction and the use of punitive measures without attention to the social and health aspects of drug abuse, have proved insufficient in reducing substance abuse in many countries,” said Hussein Gezairy, WHO’s regional director. “It’s now a common belief that supply reduction strategies should go hand in hand with policies aimed at demand reduction.” “This means that even if the substances are available, there is no demand,” explained Abdel-Rahman Asfour, director of the al-Gahraa Health District at the Kuwaiti Health Ministry. “Through treatment and public awareness campaigns, we can help young people refuse drugs if they are offered.” While Lebanon has made great strides in the reduction of drug production, Ghazawi stressed that more needs to be done to reduce the demand as well: “Families in the Bekaa region don’t grow hashish as much anymore. So while we’ve done a great deal in addressing the supply, we need to work on both supply and demand.” According to participants, another problem in need of attention is the increase in drugs that are injected because of the risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. “Injecting drugs has the potential of becoming the main source of HIV transmission in this region,” said Gezairy. “Between 1989 and 1998, about 4 percent of total AIDS cases were due to drug injections.” The drug-related spread of HIV can take a number of dimensions and threatens the region with explosive outbreaks, he continued. “There is good reason to believe that injecting drugs may fuel the next wave of HIV spread in the region, and that containing the epidemic will become increasingly difficult.” World Health Organization November 29, 1999Copyright© 1999 The Daily Star. All rights reserved.
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