As police crack down on distribution, drug use and addiction remain long-term problem

Incarceration, stigma persist despite treatment options

Drug Rehabilitation Center
A state-sponsored drug treatment center operated by the Anti-Narcotics Department, in Amman. (Photos: Twitter)
AMMAN — “I couldn’t start my day without taking one; I became totally reliant on them,” Marwan (a pseudonym) said of captagon. He has been using drugs for more than 15 years.اضافة اعلان

On August 14, Jordanian law enforcement announced the beginning of an intense crackdown campaign on illicit drug manufacturers and distributors. Jordan News spoke to a number of drug users and experts to shed greater light on the effects drugs have on the lives of people who use them and how the law and society treat those who have been caught using them.

The captagon trade is rapidly growing in the Middle East, New Lines Institute said in April. While the trade had an estimated value of $3.46 billion in 2020, trade in 2021 is estimated at over $5.7 billion.

In an interview with Jordan News, Dr Abdallah Abu Adas, a consultant psychiatrist, said that the private sector has seen a rising number of addiction cases — an indicator of a growing problem in Jordan. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that four out of every 1,000 people in the MENA region uses drugs, Abu Adas said. That puts the estimated number of drug users in Jordan at 40,800.

The Juwaideh Correctional and Rehabilitation Center in Juwaideh, in southeast Amman.

According to the UNODC, 3.91kg of amphetamines were seized in Jordan in 2019, constituting just more than half of all drugs seized by police that year. The amount of drugs seized is expected to balloon in the wake of the ongoing police crackdown.

Incarceration or treatment
If one is caught by the police for using drugs, there are two paths one can go down. The first is prison.

For those found guilty of drug possession, the law offers the following sentence: “imprisonment for a period of not less than one year and not more than three years and a fine of not less than JD1,000 and not more than JD3,000.”

After three years of “good behavior” a released drug offender can petition the court to have the record of their offense expunged, according to Public Security Directorate (PSD) spokesperson Amer Sartawi.

He stressed that the user’s criminal record is to protect society and employers, as “this matter cannot be kept a secret from them”.
I couldn’t start my day without taking one; I became totally reliant on them,
Article 9b of the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act (2016) does include the provision that drug offenses will not be considered a “criminal precedent”, nor will the individual be given a “security restriction” if they are a first-time offender. They would still have to serve out their sentence and pay the fine.

However, drug offenders do have another alternative to prison time. They can voluntarily submit to treatment.

In 1993, PSD’s Anti-Narcotics Department opened its first addiction treatment center. Since then, the center has been expanded twice, with a total capacity of 170 beds by 2022, according to the PSD website.

Anyone who voluntarily submits for addiction therapy is offered anonymity, director of the National Center for Addiction, Maj. Yazan Barmawi, told Jordan News. “Visits are limited to first-degree relatives” and treatment is free of charge, he explained.

Nobody is coerced into treatment, Sartawi underlined; the focus is on consent.

Jordan News received the opportunity to interview a patient at the National Center for Addiction. Mazen (a pseudonym) is in his 30s, a polyglot, and a university graduate.

When Mazen was in his 20s he was arrested for drug use. As a result he lost not just his job but a parent, when his father disowned him after learning of his addiction.

“I started using cannabis, all the way to cocaine, which broke my relationships with everyone,” he said, adding that he was hesitant to seek out treatment at his family’s insistence.

“I knew there would be no legal consequences and the treatment would be absolutely confidential, so I agreed to go with the intention of recovering.”

Despite the availability of state-sponsored addiction treatment, the number of those who seek it out seems low relative to the number of drug crimes.

Criminalization and stigma
PSD’s 2021 annual report on crimes committed in the country showed that more than 100 people are receiving treatment for drug abuse, yet according to the same report, 14,129 were charged with drug possession and 4,858 people were charged with drug trafficking.

On August 29, the director of Jordan’s prisons, Brig. Gen. Ashraf Al-Omari, said that more than 20,000 people were being held in Jordan’s 17 rehabilitation centers, the capacity of which officially stands at 13,282, Al-Mamlaka reported. At a meeting of the Parliamentary Freedoms and Human Rights Committee on the same day, its head, MP Abdullah Abu Zaid, said that Jordan’s current economic conditions are one of the primary drivers of the Kingdom’s high drug abuse rates.
started using cannabis, all the way to cocaine, which broke my relationships with everyone
The social stigma around drug use in Jordan cannot be understated.

“I was arrested for drug use and served my time, but people began to avoid me — my family and wife completely disavowed me, and I lost my job,” Marwan told Jordan News.

According to Dr Mousa Altarifi, president of the Jordan Anti-Drugs Society (TJADS), the problem of stigma is an ongoing struggle that can push a recovered person into relapsing.

TJADS believes that imprisonment is not a treatment for drug abuse, and evidence suggests that many of those imprisoned return to drug consumption, Altarifi said.

“We respect our judicial system in the manner it deals with the addict, whether it was with a fine or imprisonment, but why is there a need to impose more punishments such as (security) restrictions, travel bans, and recurrent punishments?” Altarifi asked.

An additional complication is the question of how to approach drug use among minors, particularly their interactions with the legal system.

Jordan News spoke to Hadeel Abdel Aziz, the executive director of the Justice Center for Legal Aid, who stressed that “If we don’t prioritize reform above punishment, these children will reoffend or use more dangerous substances.”

She added that one of Jordan’s biggest issues is the lack of a facility to treat young drug users. The National Center for Addiction and the Ministry of Health are increasingly working together to modernize the addiction treatment center and construct a dedicated wing for drug-addicted children.

Some shift can be noted in policy, however, as an amendment to the Penal Code, which came into effect on June 24, gave judges the discretionary authority to assess if the circumstances of a case allow them to replace a jail sentence with one or more alternative penalties.

These include community service, community monitoring, electronic monitoring, or banning the offender from accessing specific public places.

Private clinics
Beyond the state-sponsored treatment center, or prison, those struggling with addiction can also turn to private clinics.

People turn to the private sector due to social stigma and the need for complete secrecy, according to Dr Abed Al Rahman Al Tamimi.

“The addict is also absolutely confident that he won’t be held accountable in any way by the law.”
If we don’t prioritize reform above punishment, these children will reoffend or use more dangerous substances.
“Education and career opportunities for drug users are determined by their reputations; in some cases, contracts have been terminated and students have even left their universities as a result of the social stigma,” Dr Abu Adas said.

How many people turn to private treatment can also offer insight into trends on drug use in the country. For example, Dr Ali Alqam, a consultant psychiatrist at Al-Rashid Hospital, a private psychiatry and addiction treatment center, told Jordan News that approximately one-third of hospitalized patients at Al-Rashid are being treated for drug addiction.

In the end, Marwan attempted to seek treatment because he was sick of his addiction and worried that his children would find out.

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