The Growing Addiction Problem in Saudi Arabia
The escalating substance abuse and addiction issues emulating from the Saudi Arabia region are fast-becoming well-known issues, that can no longer be swept under the rug by Saudi officials and decision makers.
New information and statistics regarding the ever-present drug epidemic that has gripped the region over the past decade or more can no longer de denied by the powers that be. In 2015, through the months of January to May, the authorities in Saudi Arabia executed 84 people that were accused of drug smuggling. A clear sign that the presence of illicit drugs is well established in the Arab territories. Due to the stringent cultural and religious norms throughout the region, lack of data and insufficient research has made this problem one that has been difficult to quantify, further isolating the actual reality of these issues.
Since 2004, Saudi Arabia has reported the highest number of amphetamine seizures in the world. That number making up a staggering 30% of the global figure. In Saudi Arabia, the majority of drug-related emergency room visits are due to reported drug abuse, the main drugs reported being: sympathomimetic (used for promoting stimulation of sympathetic nerves), opiates, and psychotherapeutic drugs like Benzodiazepines.
The Increase in Availability
The 2015 execution of 84 suspected drug traffickers was a clear indication that authorities are prepared and to tackle any drug issue that they encounter. This, although in-line with usual harsh treatment of drug offenders, has not seemed to deter traffickers to a large degree. It is said that once in their lifetime a Muslim should make the sacred journey to the holy places of Mecca and Medina. It has however also been said, that that is the same goal of every drug dealer in the Arab region, under the guise of being a devout and devoted Muslim.
The declaration of war by Saudi Arabia on its neighboring Yemen decreased the quality of the regions border controls, thus allowing for the increase in trafficking of illicit drugs. According to the Minister of Interior Affairs, the volume of hashish and amphetamines intercepted along the southern border, in the 5 months since the declaration, decreased by as much as 75% and 95% respectively. It was further reported that Yemeni traffickers started using drones to smuggle the narcotics across the border.
Although the majority of the local workforce has been imported from all corners of the globe, authorities at the National Commission for Drug Control say that only 22% of the drug smuggling has been provided by foreigners and expats. Furthermore, it has been stated that the import of drugs is aided by the Kingdoms’ youth itself. Exceptionally high unemployment rates among the country’s younger generations has contributed heavily to this growing epidemic. Approximately two-thirds of the country’s youths under the age of 30 years old, that’s around 20-million people, remain unemployed, and will continue to make the drug trafficking industry prosper and flourish while unemployment still runs rife.
Social Trends, Social Issues, and Causes for Concern.
Of course, with the increased supply of narcotics into the Arab region there is a corresponding demand that this supply is meeting. The volume of narcotics entering the country increasing year-on-year. Now these demands for illegal drugs has been fueled by both a number of local and imported factors, all contributing to the growing crisis of addiction throughout the Arab region. The import of foreign workers and the establishment of expat settlements has been a contributing factor to the overall substance abuse issue experienced throughout the region. The lack of any social support structures and unfamiliar environments, as well as language, have led to an increase in the number of cases of depression among expats and their families. This, in turn, has led to an increase in the use of drugs and alcohol to escape the pains of this new reality. According to Saudi psychologists and sociologists, the lack of physical activity, attempts to self-treat depression, and simply being bored are some of the big reasons for drug use and abuse.
Further dampening the coming out of people with drug and alcohol use problems and issues are the cultural stigmas posed upon people who suffer from these problems in the Middle Eastern culture. It is not common place in this society to publicly discuss any issues of drug addiction, further depressing the issue for those involved, related or concerned. A popular stimulant that is locally grown throughout the Middle East is Khat (Catha Edulis). Locals along the Saudi Arabian border part of Yemen cultivate this crop there, and consider it to be a part of their daily lives and culture. This cultural norm has further entrenched the hard road that lies ahead for the challenges faced by addicts amidst the Middle Eastern culture.
Although statistics around the precise number of drug addicts in and around the region have been hard to come by, statistics from rehabilitation centers in the area have shown a dramatic increase from the 10 thousand people a year in the 2000’s, to currently treating more than 50 thousand patients annually. The rising drug epidemic and corresponding addiction crisis is something that needs to be tackled head on, and in a more open form of acknowledgement. The numbers don’t lie, and at this rate, they don’t seem to be slowing at any time in the near future.