Jordan campaigns to combat taboo drug addiction


Amman (AFP)

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."

- 'Bags of evidence' -

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 centre.

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.

- 'Drugs are a monster' -

At a 170-bed rehab centre 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 centre's director.

"There are three stages: detox, treatment and rehabilitation,"he told AFP, and the centre follows up with patients for four months after their discharge.

Omar, 32, said his mother encouraged him to check in to the centre 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 realised it was hashish ... I was 18 years old."

After years of substance abuse, "my health deteriorated, I lost 27 kilos (almost 60 pounds), 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".