JEDDAH – It’s nine o’clock at night and Ibrahim, a young Saudi who is addicted to crack cocaine, is parked near the International Medical Center in Jeddah. In his pocket is $533, and he’s not here for medical treatment.
It’s the second time Ibrahim and his dealer are seeing each other on this day. A few hours earlier, $374 had exchanged hands in return for two grams of crack.
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“Two grams is nothing when you are sharing with three friends,” Ibrahim told The Media Line. He said he needed to be alone to meet his dealer. “If he (the dealer) sees someone else in the car, he’ll leave,” he explained. “Sorry, but you have to wait here.”
Ten minutes later, Ibrahim was back with three little plastic containers, each holding a single gram of the highly addictive substance that according to the United Nations is the second-most prevalent drug in America. The crack/ cocaine industry generates more than $85 billion in sales worldwide. Just today, Ibrahim had given more than $900 to this industry out of a total amount he spent on crack during the past year that he estimates surpasses $26,000.
Ibrahim drove past the American Consulate, and crossed over Tahlia Street before arriving at a Jarir Bookstore branch near Hera’ Street. Ibrahim had avoided the major roads so as to avoid checkpoints.
“I need a new pipe,” he said, as he parked in front of Jarir. It seems surprising that he bought his crack pipe where most people buy school books and laptops. In the bookstore, he walked over to where the extendable metal pointers used by lecturers are displayed. The pointers look like the television antennas of the 1980s and 90s, and cost $12. Ibrahim planned to use the pointer as a pipe.
Next stop was at a mini-mart where Ibrahim bought a Brillo scouring pad, the mesh wire used to scrub dirty pots and pans.
“We cut away a bit of the Brillo pad and heat it with a lighter to burn off any chemicals on it,” Ibrahim said. “Then we roll the Brillo up, small and tight enough to fit in the end of the ‘pipe'. Then we break off a piece of the crack rock, put it in the pipe above the Brillo and heat it up with a lighter and inhale.”
Ibrahim knows he’s addicted to this expensive drug. “It’s an intense rush, intensely pleasurable and adrenaline-charged,” he said.
That was as far as Ibrahim would allow another person to delve into the ‘dark side’ that has been his existence for almost two years. His wife divorced him a few months ago because of his crack habit and he is barely hanging on to his job.
It is hard to find statistics about the extent of drug abuse in Saudi Arabia, but Dr Khalid Al-Oufi, medical director of the Al-Amal Rehabilitation Hospital in Jeddah, says that crack cocaine addicts began arriving at the hospital between five and seven years ago and their numbers have been increasing ever since.
“Crack cocaine is free-based (smoked) and therefore it is far more intense and addictive than powdered cocaine,” Dr Al-Oufi told The Media Line. “The number of crack addicts has increased over the past few years but not at the same rate as those addicted to other drugs such as amphetamines, heroin and hashish. Most crack addicts we see here in Jeddah are from the higher social classes – the people who can afford to pay between $180 to $250 per gram. That’s what has kept it from becoming the major mainstream problem we see abroad.”
Al-Amal Rehabilitation Hospital is Jeddah's main drug treatment facility. Many patients there are referred there by the criminal courts for mandatory treatment, while others are forced there by their families.
While some check themselves in voluntarily, there are others who deny they have a problem and blindly wreak havoc on the lives of those around them. This was the case for a group of Saudi sisters whose brother, a former police officer, had a serious addiction to amphetamines.
The sisters say their brother always kept a loaded gun nearby and often hallucinated because of his inability to sleep. Eventually they feared for their lives.
"We finally got someone we know who knows someone on the anti-narcotics force to come take him from the house and to the hospital by force," said Um Mohsen, one of the sisters. "He stayed at the hospital for almost three months and was cured. He then moved to Kuwait."
Treatment at Al-Amal Hospital is free for Saudi citizens, whether they are forced there or check themselves in.
"We have treated addiction to all types of different drugs here," Dr Al-Oufi said. "One drug that is quite addictive is Captagon. It's a stimulant taken in a pill form. Addiction to Captagon and hashish are quite common. Alcoholism is also a problem here. So is heroin addiction. Now crack is beginning to appear."
Some addicts do succeed in kicking the habit. Majid (not his real name) went into a rehab program in the US, and has managed to stay sober since his return to Jeddah.
“It’s intensely addictive,” Majid said. “I tried it for the first time with friends at a party. There was cocaine around and I tried it and loved it. So whenever someone at a party had coke, I did some. At first it was just a ‘once in awhile’ thing, but after that it became every weekend, then every day.”
Then one day, about 16 months ago, Majid was introduced to Baher, a cocaine dealer well-known in the party circles of Jeddah’s elite.
“I would see him once a week and buy three grams of cocaine for $850 from him,” Majid said. “Then I started calling him twice a week. That’s when he suggested I try crack. I did and I loved it even more than coke.”
For the next 13 months, Majid exhausted all of his savings, almost $46,000, and he was broke. He moved out of the apartment he had been renting and moved into his parent’s house.
“I was 27 years old and asking my family for money all the time,” he said. “They started wondering where all the money from my salary and the money I was taking from them was going, and began getting really concerned. My behavior was erratic. Sometimes I would be going a million miles an hour and other times I could barely get out of bed without taking a hit.”
The end came when Majid was caught stealing things from his parents’ home to sell in order to raise cash to support his habit. The maid had seen him taking silver from the house and told his parents. A few days later, he was on a flight to a rehabilitation center in the US.
Majid has been back in Jeddah now for the past four months. He is clean and sober and stays away from all his old friends. The temptation to call them and his dealer is there everyday, but he fights it.
“I had to drop all my friends and keep away from anyone and anything that reminds me of it,” he said. “Even having this conversation makes me think about it and it’s uncomfortable. It destroyed my life and changed the way my family thinks of me. They thought I was weak, but now they think I am strong because I am fighting this addiction battle everyday.”
Article written by Mohammed Hijazi
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line
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