Addiction Overseas: The Middle East

06/16/20: Addiction
Substance abuse is not limited to culture, country, race, or religion. For many decades, people belonging to different countries and cultures have fallen prey to the temptations of using drugs. The problem has engulfed many countries wherein some, the ruling power is doing their best to fight this unusual trend however in others, the problem is left unattended. We must take a lesson from our past and act accordingly to make our future better. This should most certainly be applied to addiction where a country like the United States has suffered the biggest hit. Although many other countries are also struggling with addiction, one part of the world where it is most rapidly spreading is The Middle East.

Addiction in The Middle East?

Substance abuse is the act of misusing prescription or illicit drugs. However, the definition of which substance is legal and which is not can be different for different cultures and countries. Also, stigmas around drug addiction and alcohol abuse play a major role in pulling back those who want to seek help. This problem is the root cause of addiction in The Middle East. Many specialists residing in the region claim to accept that the problem of addiction is still a taboo in the community. It is because of the religious and cultural values that substance abuse disorder is never viewed as a problem and thought to be non-existent. According to experts, the problem exists in every country and is even worse in some regions. In such desperate times, social workers and independent organizations have attempted to highlight the issues surrounding substance abuse. The government has been advised by these organizations to gather data and start taking action. However, various experts claim that the efforts to gather statistics, even if the government wants to, are hampered by the conservative nature of the society, labeling of drugs as illegal, and the surveillance strategies to track abuse. Due to the large population in Egypt, Syria, North Africa, and Lebanon, there are expected to be more drug users. Although frequent surveys aren't conducted to gather fresh data, it is estimated that approximately 500,000 drug users are active in these countries.

The Stats

In Morocco, 65% of street children aged 8 to 13 years are inhalant users and more than 20% abuse cannabis. The use of highly addictive and health-deteriorating drugs at such an early age has raised several problems such as HIV/AIDS, psychiatric disorders, road accidents, hepatitis, domestic violence, and legal consequences at an early age. Nearly four million people use opioids in Iran, out of which 1.2 million people have developed opioid dependence and the other 2.5 million meet the DSM IV diagnostic profile. Although alcohol abuse is already ignored in the region, the numbers are still less when compared to drug abuse. Approximately, 1,000 tons of morphine and heroin is consumed yearly in Iran with Afghanistan maintaining a major part of the opioid supply. Almost 16% of drug users abuse Schedule IV substances. In Palestine territory, heroin, cocaine, and morphine injection is a moderate problem. Though clean needles are available, they are not free which leads to people injecting substances using a dirty needle. This increases the risk of developing HIV/AIDS including hepatitis and various other psychiatric disorders. In Iraq, drug abuse is slowly spreading in children and young teens. This is linked to the current violent conditions and the loss of family members.

The Major Problem

In several or almost all countries in the Middle East, alcohol abuse is not even considered a disease and is often labeled as a bad habit. Not even the public or leaders treat alcohol abuse as a disorder. However, since the past few years, alcohol abuse has emerged as one of the biggest problems in the Middle East. Additionally, heroin, cannabis, prescription, and illicit drug abuse cases have seen a rise as well. Sheer ignorance about the disease and a lack of knowledge has lead to a decrease in the average age of starting substance abuse, increased drug abuse in women, and frequent use of Schedule IV drugs. Addicts don't seek medical treatment due to a lack of resources and stigma around addiction. Also, Middle East countries have stricter laws for drug abuse with the punishment being anywhere between 4-10 years in jail. The duration can vary for different countries, however, the strictness remains. If caught with enough amounts of drugs to be considered a trafficker, there can even be a death penalty. Even if someone tries to seek help for their disorder, they must be careful who and where they are undergoing the recovery process. Many residents of the Middle East countries are afraid to even talk to their families and friends about the disorder because they fear that if the word ever goes out, there would be serious consequences. Also, it is thought to be culturally tarnishing for the image of the family if one of their members is found to be an addict. They feel culpable and ashamed due to the member's addictive behavior. All this leads to a false belief among the patients and their families, stopping them from seeking medical attention and reducing their chances of ever leaving a healthy and sober life. Further, the lack of quality treatment centers adds to the already struggling medical infrastructure for addiction in these countries.

The Good Change

The past 10-15 years have seen a major improvement in some of the countries. For example, Iran made a significant investment in detoxification centers including 100 government-funded and 600 private centers. The country has also invested in inpatient care establishing nearly 500 beds nationwide and therapeutic communities at more than 35 centers. Iran also opened Narcotics Anonymous (NA) groups with more than 13,000 members, making it the nation with a rapidly increasing number of NA groups. However, until and unless society doesn't accept addiction as a disease and treat the addicts as patients, the situation is more likely to remain the same. Although investing in countermeasures like Iran did, it can help boost the motivation of the patients and encourage them to come out and seek help.

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