Kuwait rehab centre helps drug users overcome addiction
“It’s like heaven is in the palm of your hand. You know it’s so close, but you just can’t have it.”
Jasim pauses to take a puff from his cigarette.
“That’s what sobriety feels like.”
It’s Saturday afternoon, and the weather has cleared up after a raging dust storm.
While most of his friends are at the beach or going out for iced coffee, the twenty-four-year-old is spending what’s left of the weekend at Choose, a rehab centre for drug addicts in Kuwait.
In the dim light of the conference room, he recounts a troubled past: extreme verbal and physical abuse at home led him to run with the wrong crowd, he says.
It wasn’t long before he started to dabble in drugs, and at fifteen, Jasim developed a penchant for Tramadol, a highly addictive prescription medication.
His love affair with the opioid ended abruptly after it was pulled from the market, and he quickly turned to heroin for his daily fix. Jasim wasn’t particular about his method: he smoked, snorted, and injected; Ed Sheeran’s hit single, Bloodstream, would play on repeat in the background. Every day, he would chase a fleeting sense of euphoria, a feeling of being on top of the world, as though nothing could go wrong.
Eventually, however, things did go wrong.
Over the course of nine years, since taking his first pill, Jasim experienced seven overdoses, two of which were from heroin. But his struggle truly began after ditching the drug. He explains that the withdrawal symptoms might have been worse than death, likening the feeling to nails being hammered into his legs.
Jasim’s story of addiction is not out of the ordinary. According to a 2017 report from the Arab Times, the rate of drug addiction has increased in Kuwait by 25 per cent since 2014.
The country’s struggle with drugs is hardly recent, however. In 2002, the New York Times reported astronomical surges of smuggling in Kuwait. The article states that before the invasion in 1990, smuggling 200kg of hashish was considered substantial, and to a certain extent, almost unheard of. In 2001, that number escalated to 4,000kg.
In 2017, the Drugs Control Department seized 35,000 grams of chemical, a synthetic form of marijuana combined with various chemicals, including heroin. The total value of the confiscated substances was a staggering 700,000 Kuwaiti dinars ($2.3 million, Dh8.5 million).
Noura, 26, is a former addict and dealer who was once part of this lucrative trade. Chemical was her drug of choice, which she started using daily in 2013.
Like Jasim, Noura grew up with abuse and financial struggles, and drugs provided her with both means and relief. At just twenty years old, she started moonlighting as a dealer, selling an assortment of illegal substances, including weed, hash, a variety of pills, and occasionally, cocaine and heroin. On average, Noura claims to have made 25,000 Kuwaiti dinars a month from selling drugs in Kuwait.
It wasn’t until after a near fatal overdose in her home four years earlier that she was rushed to Choose to begin her battle for sobriety.
“I woke up in my mother’s arms,” she explained. “Apparently, I had been dead for two minutes.”
Overdosing on drugs is the third highest cause of accidental deaths in Kuwait, according to a BMC Public Health report, 2015. The study, which describes incidents of accidental death from 2003-9, includes a series of unpromising statistics: more men than women died in the six-year period as a result of overdosing on drugs (286 vs 17), the number of Kuwaitis who died from a drug overdose was more than double the number of non-Kuwaitis (201 Kuwaitis vs 100 non-Kuwaitis), and 209 cases of death were reported for those in the 20-39 age group.
Mona Al Yatamah, the founder of Choose, explains that the variety and ease of obtaining drugs are major contributors to the rise of drug use and addiction in Kuwait.
To combat this phenomenon, her centre recently organised a large-scale campaign to raise awareness of the treatment options available locally and reduce the stigma associated with addiction.
And while treatment facilities do exist, they also come with their own set of challenges.
Neither Jasim or Noura went to the hospital after overdosing for fear of being whisked away to the national mental health facility, where the majority of addiction cases are sent for treatment.
In a conservative country like Kuwait, being labelled as mentally ill may bring negative social consequences, and for many, suffering in silence is a better alternative.
A drug addiction centre sponsored by Kuwait Finance House, the country’s leading Islamic bank, also offers three to four-week treatment options, and they work closely with the Kuwait chapter of Narcotics Anonymous, a 12-step programme that focuses on group therapy sessions.
But what separates Choose from its counterparts, according to Al Yatamah, is its focus on privacy.
Anyone seeking help can do so anonymously, without having to submit formal identification when opening a file at the centre.
Her patients also benefit from regular group therapy sessions, which take place under direct supervision from experienced social care workers, some of whom are former addicts themselves. For some cases, like Noura’s, Al Yatamah will even arrange for treatment at leading rehabilitation centres in Egypt, a country with far more advanced facilities and resources when it comes to recovery programmes for drug addiction.
For Jasim and Noura, overdosing on drugs was the turning point that propelled them both to a life of sobriety.
And while neither can truly forget the hardships of their past, they are both optimistic for the future.
Today, Jasim is focused on obtaining a university degree in biochemistry, and Noura wants to pursue a PhD in behavioural sciences.
Both agree, however, that achieving sobriety is one of the most difficult experiences any addict will have to go through — if not for the physical and psychological challenges that come with withdrawal, then at least because of the widespread misconceptions surrounding addiction in general.
“Unfortunately, addicts in Kuwait are viewed as criminals,” said Jasim. “The reality is we are just people who need help.”
— Khalid is a freelance writer based Kuwait
Source: Gulf News