Jordan campaigns to combat drug addiction taboo

Jordan courts sentence drug traffickers for up to 20 years. (AFP)
Updated 19 March 2019

Jordan campaigns to combat drug addiction taboo

  • The number of drug addictions in Jordan increased by 32% since 2017
  • Authorities arrested 20,000 in 2018 for drug abuse

AMMAN: Issam was reduced to tears recounting his life as a drug addict, as Jordanian authorities press an unprecedented campaign in the Muslim-majority country where substance abuse remains taboo.
Slogans such as “No to Drugs” are part of the new drive, launched in the wake of a worrying rise in the number of cases of addiction, possession and smuggling, to raise overall awareness of the issue, according to the anti-narcotics department.
Jordan’s public security directorate has also started a primetime radio show that airs every Tuesday to address the dangers of drug addiction.
“Drugs have made me an outcast. No one respects me or even looks at me,” Issam said during the show, hosted by Major Anas Al-Tantawi of the anti-narcotics department.
“It got to the point where I sold my furniture and my five-year-old daughter’s gold earrings ... I tried to commit suicide twice.”
As the show came to a close, Tantawi said: “They are victims, and we must help them, not discard them.”
Brigadier Anwar Al-Tarawneh, director of the anti-narcotics department, told AFP there has been a 32 percent increase in cases of addiction, possession smuggling in Jordan since 2017.
The evidence is there. In a room in the department, the shelves are crammed with white plastic bags and brown envelopes bulging with seized drugs — including heroin, cocaine and amphetamines. Some were smuggled into the country in hollowed-out books, or shoes or disguised as pastries in a box.
But authorities say hashish is the most commonly used drug in the kingdom, where 20,000 people were arrested in 2018 for drug abuse.
Drug traffickers in Jordan, which has a small population of just over nine million, face sentences of between three and 20 years, depending on the amount and type of drugs seized.
Under a 2016 law, addicts are exempted from serving time if they agree to treatment at a rehabilitation center.
But drug addicts are generally still looked down upon by Jordan’s conservative society.
“Drugs are a (vice) that affects one’s mind, soul, finances and health,” Muslim preacher Raed Sabri, who has a YouTube channel, told AFP.
Recovering addicts however must be “cared for and not discarded so that they can again be contributing members of society,” he insisted.
The kingdom’s anti-drugs campaign targets those aged between 18 and 27, who make up 47 percent of users, according to the anti-narcotics department.
According to Jamal Al-Anani, a psychiatrist and drug addiction specialist, “curiosity, lack of maturity and stress” are the main causes that lead to addiction among teenagers.
Apart from workshops in schools and universities, Tarawneh said authorities were using “modern methods,” including social media, to reach those most vulnerable.
At a 170-bed rehab center in the capital Amman, affiliated with the public security directorate, posters on the walls read “Drugs are a Monster, don’t come near” and “Drugs are a Waste of Money.”
Treatment lasts between one and two months, said Fawaz Al-Masaeed, the center’s director.
“There are three stages: detox, treatment and rehabilitation,” he told AFP, and the center follows up with patients for four months after their discharge.
Omar, 32, said his mother encouraged him to check in to the center after having struggled with drug addiction for 14 years.
“A friend offered me a cigarette when I was depressed, telling me ‘Take this, it’ll make you relax,’” Omar, now a father of four, told AFP.
“When I asked for another, I realized it was hashish ... I was 18 years old.”
After years of substance abuse, “my health deteriorated, I lost 27 kilos, I lost my job, and it strained my relationships with everyone around me. I destroyed my life.”
Now after his rehabilitation, Omar hopes “to start a new life.”


Protesters regain control of third bridge in Baghdad

Updated 17 November 2019

Protesters regain control of third bridge in Baghdad

  • Security forces used tear gas and stun bombs to prevent protesters from getting right across Ahrar Bridge in central Baghdad
  • More than 300 people have been killed since the start of mass unrest in Baghdad

BAGHDAD: Iraqi protesters regained control of a third bridge leading to Baghdad’s Green Zone on Sunday, taking further ground in the biggest wave of anti-government demonstrations in decades.
Security forces used tear gas and stun bombs to prevent protesters from getting right across Ahrar Bridge in central Baghdad, part of a weeks-long attempt to disrupt traffic and reach the Green Zone housing government ministry and embassies.
Protesters made a barricade of old cabinets, trash cans and metal sheeting on the bridge while security forces took positions behind blast walls installed to prevent protesters from crossing to the other side. Protesters who choked on the tear gas were evacuated by tuk-tuk, a Reuters cameraman said.
On Saturday, Iraqi demonstrators reoccupied part of adjacent Sinak Bridge and a nearby tall building in Baghdad that security forces had pushed them away from a week before. They have held a third bridge, Jamhuriya, since October 25.
More than 300 people have been killed since the start of mass unrest in Baghdad and southern Iraq in early October, the largest demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Protesters are demanding the overthrow of a political class seen as corrupt and beholden to foreign interests.
In Basra in the south, dozens of protesters burned tires and briefly blocked some roads on Sunday, before police managed to restore control and reopen them, police said.
The unrest has shattered the relative calm that followed the defeat of Islamic State in 2017.