Drug use creeps up in Lebanese schools

Despite warnings circulating online about a new drug quickly spreading in Lebanese schools, experts say that while the issue deserves attention, drug abuse among students is not as widespread as the rumors suggest.

al-monitor A man works in a cannabis field at Hermel, Bekaa Valley, July 31, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/ Mohamed Azakir.

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drugs, young lebanese, lebanon schools, lebanon, lebanese society, drug trade

Feb 23, 2015

BEIRUT — In addition to their political, economic and living conditions, Lebanese parents have another concern: the spread of drugs in schools. This issue emerged when a message circulated via WhatsApp in mid-January 2015 stated that there is a new type of drugs in schools called “Strawberry Quik,” which looks like strawberry-flavored sweets. The news, which caused panic among parents and alarmed schools and security agencies, was soon determined to be false. There are still many rumors about the significant spread of drugs in schools and the high rate of abuse among teenagers. But how accurate are they?

Al-Monitor looked into this issue on the security level with the Anti-Drug Bureau of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), on the educational level with Secretary General of Catholic Schools Father Botros Azar and on the social level with Joseph Hawat, the president of one of the most prominent associations in this field since 1981, Jeunesse Anti Drogue (JAD). The conclusion: Drugs are present in Lebanese schools, but are not as prevalent as rumors suggest.

“I do not deny that we have a problem, but portraying schools as infested with drugs is unacceptable,” said Azar, noting that certain schools have some drug abuse cases, but it is inappropriate and inaccurate to generalize.

This opinion was shared by Capt. Ahmed Sati, an officer of the ISF's Central Bureau Drug Repression Bureau, who said that the problem exists but is not cause for alarm. He noted that the bureau has not been notified of any cases of drug promotion and trafficking within schools since 2010. However, some cases of drug abuse (involving marijuana and Benzhexol pills) were recorded among youths between the ages of 16 and 18. The reasons behind drug abuse among teenagers, he said, can be curiosity, fear of appearing shy or weak or mistaking the pills for “brain-enhancing supplements.”

However, Hawat noted that JAD detected an increase in drugs in schools. He explained, “In 2000, the cases registered in our association were no more than five. Drugs would enter school campuses coincidentally, not through organized networks that target school students, like the ones we see today.” According to Hawat, in 2014, the association accepted 220 cases for medical examination, psychological treatment and follow-up, 8% of which are on the way to recovery.

Azar believes that students themselves are the only ones who can bring drugs into schools. Sati also agreed that students usually fall victim to being used by drug traffickers either as a result of blackmail or because they need the money.

However, Hawat had a different opinion. He noted that according to the association’s research, students and teachers are not the ones who bring drugs to school, and that a third party close to the school’s location is usually involved. He gave the example of workers at a stone factory near a school whose name he refused to reveal. JAD learned that these workers would sneak drugs to students on a weekly basis and immediately notified the school. He also said that four other schools were notified about drug trafficking networks operating within their premises, but the administrations of some schools rejected the JAD’s interference.

The General Secretariat of Catholic Schools lacks official statistics, but Azar said that since he took office in November 2011, the number of cases (of abuse, not trafficking) did not exceed four in the Catholic schools that he oversees. He noted that when he was previously the head of a school's administration, he was told that a group of young students were doing drugs on campus. In the course of an investigation, the school found that these students were only claiming to do drugs to impress their peers.

Meanwhile, the official figures available from the ISF's Anti-Drug Bureau showed that 2.95% of those arrested for drug abuse in 2014 were under the age of 18, compared with 1.72% in 2013. However, not all youths included in these statistics actually attended school.

Confronting this threat in schools requires cooperation between parents, the school, security services and related civic associations. Sati stressed that the bureau is closely monitoring the situation in schools, in accordance with the cooperation protocol signed between the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities and the Ministry of Education in 2012 to reduce drug abuse among schoolchildren and university students.

“Awareness is the primary weapon,” said Azar, who rejected the idea of searching students, as schools are not allowed to perform such checks as educational and not security services. He explained that many students notify school officials if they suspect that one of their classmates possesses drugs or any other suspicious substance.

Hawat said that in 2013, JAD gained the approval of the Ministry of Education to conduct random drug tests three times a year for students in grades 9-12. It also won approval to conduct tests when a school suspects that a student is using drugs. However, this project was suspended following the opposition of two associations, Oum el-Nour and Skoun, as they consider these measures a violation of human rights.

As for public schools, Sati pointed out that the drug abuse rate may be slightly higher there due to poverty. However, Hawat said that the problem is the same in both public and private schools, where drugs can come to represent “development, openness, freedom and imitating the West,” and the only difference is the price rates.

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