Egypt says cheap new drug ‘Strox’ threatens its youth

1 / 2
A youth rolls a cigarette with a new kind of drug called "Strox", in Cairo Egypt October 14, 2018. Picture taken October 14, 2018. (Reuters)
2 / 2
A youth holds a rolled cigarette containing a new kind of drug called "Strox", in Cairo Egypt October 14, 2018. Picture taken October 14, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 20 November 2018
0

Egypt says cheap new drug ‘Strox’ threatens its youth

CAIRO: For years, Mostafa Mahmoud struggled to pay for his expensive drug addiction, spending much of his meagre income on hashish. A few months ago, he switched to a cheaper way to get high which he says is pushing him to his death.
The 27-year-old man is among a growing number of Egyptians using Strox, a potent narcotic that is mixed with tobacco and smoked, and that Egyptian officials see as one of the biggest threats to the country’s young population.
Drug addiction has long been a problem in Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world with nearly 100 million. But the speed at which Strox use is spreading has posed a new challenge.
Experts say the drug is made in local workshops by adding chemicals often used by veterinarians to a herb like marjoram. Some add pesticides for greater impact, but effectively make the drug more deadly.
Users describe painful convulsions leading to hallucinations and loss of consciousness.
Authorities say the drug has killed dozens of people and has caused a spike in crime.
“It is cheaper than hashish, but when you smoke it you choke, pass out and suffer cramps,” said Mahmoud, who lost his job at a fruit shop due to his drug habit.
While the price for one hashish joint was 50 Egyptian pounds ($2.80), he said two Strox joints cost 30 pounds.
It is spreading in impoverished areas, where living standards have plunged since a 2016 IMF-backed reforms package forced currency devaluation and cut state subsidies. Many victims are aged 15 to 20, according to Amr Othman, director of the state-run drug rehabilitation fund.
While statistics are scarce, officials say some 104,000 drug addicts were receiving free treatment at a rehabilitation center run by the ministry of social solidarity.
Of those, about 25 percent are Strox addicts, officials said, up from 4.5 percent last year.
The number of arrests is also up. Over the past six months, the number of Strox-related arrests soared by 300 percent, and Strox addicts have surged to 40 percent of total drug users in Egypt from 9 percent of the total at the start of the year, according to a security source estimate.
Experts say Strox is a type of synthetic narcotic like those that spread in Western nations more than a decade ago.
“Some are 100 times more potent than others,” said Justice Tettey, chief of the laboratory and scientific section at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Egypt.
“The frightening part is not that it’s more potent than cannabis,” he said. “It’s that most people have no idea what they’re taking. Your first one or next one could be your last one,” he added.
“I don’t know why I use it. It is awful,” Mahmoud said, describing waking up after one session to find a friend had died in his sleep from an overdose. Mahmoud and his friends were held for a few months but later freed without charge.
Recognizing the threat, authorities in September banned the unlicensed sale of chemicals used to make Strox.
Othman said the decision came due to combined efforts by the ministries of health, justice and interior.
Authorities have also enlisted the country’s mosques, devoting a Friday sermon to rally Muslims against drugs.
“Just as we are in a comprehensive fight against terrorism, we need a quick and comprehensive battle against addiction and drugs,” the sermon said. “Drugs are another kind of terrorism.”

($1 = 17.8600 Egyptian pounds)


The academic fighting to stop Lebanon’s brain drain

MUSTAPHA JAZAR
Updated 14 min 4 sec ago
0

The academic fighting to stop Lebanon’s brain drain

LONDON: Lebanese professor Mustapha Jazar has made it his life’s work to help connect students to the jobs they deserve.
While Lebanon has long produced highly educated students, this promising pipeline is badly affected by a lack of matching job opportunities.
Jazar set up the Lebanese Association for Scientific Research (LASeR) 10 years ago to “try to help the students through their journey from school to the job market.”
“The government itself isn’t doing anything about it,” Jazar said.
LASeR is a research-driven nongovernmental organization (NGO) that focuses on selecting candidates to pursue work-orientated research programs.
Through the undertaking of specific research initiatives, the students are trained in areas that will have a positive impact on Lebanon’s socio-economic condition, and can acquire skills that will improve their employability.
Jazar says: “I’m a true believer in research. Throughout my life I have been a researcher and I’ve tried to find funds to do research; for myself, for my students and my colleagues. Then one day I had the idea to create an NGO to mobilize the benefits of research in a more systematic way.”
For the first five years, LASeR was focused on university professors but the NGO has since shifted its focus to undergraduates. The program now takes in about 150 students annually.
Jazar says: “LASeR’s programs include a mix of capacity-building, soft skills and advanced technical skills according to their major. The aim is that students will be better equipped for the job market at the end of three years of university.”
The framework is called “E2C: Education To Community.” It has three modules: Media to Community, Health to Community and the soon-to-be launched Engineering to Community.
“The idea is to take a bunch of students nearing graduation in their third year of study, call them to apply, and then enroll them in a competition-based experience for three to four months where we deliver training. At the end, they have to deliver a product,” Jazar said.
He said that previous projects have included society-wide health-awareness campaigns and public-technology solutions.
At the end of the training period, a jury assesses the outcome of each group and gives a grade, along with the public’s assessment.
Jazar said: “In this way, they will learn the basics of how to deliver an awareness campaign and how to run a budget. If they need specific training, we will find a senior or alumni to deliver the training. Every team has a mentor. In the media group, most of the students have already found jobs.”
Jazar said LASeR was funded by donations and corporate sponsorship. The NGO relies heavily on volunteer expertise from corporates and within the university.
Local enrollment at Lebanese universities is exceptionally high — at about 50 percent — but the country’s small size and job pipeline inefficiencies mean career opportunities are limited.
“Lebanon is educating many highly skilled people but they are going abroad to work in the Gulf, Canada, Europe or the US,” Jazar said.
“We are facing a real problem, especially in research. Jobs are becoming competitive. Right now, we are nearing saturation. We will be observing brain 
drain soon.”
In 2018, 4,000 students graduated in engineering, which is a huge number for a country that has a population of four million, he says.
“We do believe that there will be a scarcity of job offers, but what is also lacking in Lebanon is self-employment, start-ups and initiatives led by young people, especially in coding,” Jazar said.
Through LASeR, Jazar aims to create a framework that cherry-picks the best talents from society and focuses these talents on addressing Lebanon’s biggest issues and opportunities.
“We believe there’s a huge amount of social problems that need to be addressed. We aim to raise awareness about our society and the environment with our students.
“We are training our students to look for problems and come up with solutions that will make money for their livelihoods — and for the betterment of Lebanon.”