29 June - 5 July 2000
Issue No. 488
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
Egypt Region International Economy Opinion Culture Features Travel Living Sports Profile People Time Out Chronicles Cartoons Letters
Opium for the massesBy Nabil El-Qutt *
Egypt is situated along the route of the international drug trade, with large shipments traveling from Asia down the Suez Canal to Europe and the United States. Throughout the 20th century, Egypt witnessed outbreaks of drug consumption, the most recent being the present wave of opiate abuse, which broke out in the early '80s. Drug abuse is much discussed, yet the scientific endeavours and huge investments made to combat the phenomenon have done little to define its dimensions. Research efforts have generated contradictory results. Certain studies show that the drug problem is tremendous, while other studies indicate that drug consumption is on the decline.
Although addicts are now treated rather than just imprisoned, the judicial authorities still tend to treat them as criminals and hopeless cases best kept behind bars. Religious leaders even call for the death penalty. The authorities concerned with the problem display the same ignorance. The first specialised centre in Egypt, Al-Horriya Rehabilitation Centre, a voluntary charity that has been operating for the past 10 years, still cannot obtain a licence. As for the Ministry of Health, it has succeeded marvelously well in holding scores of conferences, seminars and studies costing millions of pounds, but it has not established a single specialised centre; rather, it has closed the addiction treatment section in the Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital. Does this mean the ministry denies treatment to victims of drug abuse?
We need to adopt a scientific approach to this problem. We need to educate the public -- and addicts are especially in need of such education.
* This week's Soapbox speaker is a psychiatrist specialising in the treatment of drug addiction.