Tackling Lebanon’s drug problem through social justice

Sila project takes off across Lebanon
In a bid to tackle Lebanon’s drug problem, and to improve services to drug users, particularly among young people outside the capital Beirut, Skoun, the Lebanese NGO providing treatments to drug users, launched a range of activities through its EU-funded Sila project.

An analysis of the weaknesses and gaps in the provision of prevention, treatment, and care services for drug users was launched at the beginning of the Sila project with a view to expanding the provision of targeted and evidence-based prevention and peer-to-peer educational services to young people. In addition to improving understanding, Sila aims to enhance the capacity of all stakeholders active in the field at a national level and improve coordination among the relevant governmental structures, civil society organisations (CSOs) and general practitioners (GPs).

Skoun Co-Founder and Director Nadya Mikdashi said, “We have learned much about the specific needs of these different communities and plan to assist these communities with having their needs heard by stakeholders and policy makers.” She added that Sila works toward social justice by ensuring fair access to education and health.
To date a number of activities have been completed within the Sila project. These are the mapping of drug-related services offered by CSOs in five key regions - Greater Beirut, Saida, Tyre, Tripoli and Keserwan - with special attention given to assessing the availability of evidence-based interventions. From the mapping activity, CSOs in the five regions and peer workers were identified to support the work of Skoun, SIDC and CSOs. Eventually this mapping will be used to create a network of relevant CSOs.

Following Sila training sessions, outreach workers conducted a survey among young people on their drug use patterns and risk behaviours for infections and other drug-related risks, and worked with local youth to educate them on health issues. Among those distributing brochures was Khodr, a field worker in Tripoli, who reported that distribution had prompted a number of people to call Skoun centres for treatment, and he thought that the activity should be expanded. Sarah, also a field worker in Tripoli, who took part in brochure distribution and awareness sessions, said that the sessions had made a big difference, saying “Many people need treatment as they use drugs, want to stop and cannot.” Mohammad Shaafati, a volunteer with an NGO in Saida, ran sessions in coffee shops and in universities, raising awareness on the Addiction Committee and legal support available to drug users. He said, “Many people had never heard about the Addiction Committee. We are in dire need of awareness.”

Also joining the Sila project was the legal section of Association Justice and Mercy (AJEM), which works with prisoners. AJEM took part in meetings with the Addiction Committee and met with judges and lawyers with the aim of enforcing the implementation of the new law that means patients seeking treatment are no longer arrested. “It is very important that all associations unify their feedback to the committee so that the committee puts a procedure in place,” said AJEM’s Joelle Saad.

The March Association is among Sila’s collaborating associations, which has a centre in Tripoli working on drug abuse. Gino Raidy, vice-president of March Association said that the association organizes counselling and awareness session once a week, which gives people the opportunity to speak out. “Since the association created a circle of trust people drew one another and open up more easily,” said Raidy.

Nour Saleme, who is in charge of reception for the Civil Council Against Addiction in Saida, enrolled in the Sila project to learn the procedures and methods used by other organizations and learn how to treat patients. She found the workshop useful and would like the learning to continue, saying “I feel I became more professional.”

Further Sila activities are planned, which will build the capacity of staff at Ministry of Social Affairs centres to identify and refer persons at risk to the appropriate drug support services. Training sessions will be organized and given to staff at Ministry of Social Affairs centres, as well as to CSOs involved in drug-related work and working with young people, and general practitioners (GPs), educating them on screening, motivational interviewing, drug information, and the referral procedure. Additionally, key institutions and individuals will be identified within the government working in the field of public health or the drug field in particular, and a series of strategic meetings will be organised involving the network of CSOs, the identified governmental entities and youth advocates. The Sila project will culminate in a final conference that will share results and address the gaps and needs to develop a national response to drug problem in Lebanon.