BEIRUT -- For the past six months, Khalil has been undergoing treatment for drug addiction at the Karyet el-Ensen centre in al-Maaysra - Nahr Ibrahim, to help him return to the normal life he yearns for.
Khalil, 40, who gave only his first name during an interview with Al-Mashareq, hails from Yahshoush. He has a degree in business administration and financial consulting, but 25 years of drug abuse cost him his jobs in Lebanon and Dubai.
He is one of the thousands of Lebanese who are addicted to illegal drugs.
With the wide availability of various types of drugs in Lebanon, drug use has become a social scourge, especially among high school and university students.
Security forces are ramping up efforts to pursue drug manufacturers and dealers.
According to the United Nations (UN), the percentage of Lebanese drug users more than doubled in 2021 and 2022.
Most of them are young, with unofficial statistics indicating that nearly 60% of drug users are between the ages of 16 and 35.
The most widely used drugs in Lebanon are heroin, crystal methamphetamine (crystal meth) and Captagon, psychotherapist Nicole Rizk told Al-Mashareq.
Crystal meth often is trafficked from Iran, while Captagon is manufactured in Lebanon and Syria.
Other commonly used drugs are Red Tramadol and Ketamine -- an animal tranquiliser and anesthetic -- and the hallucinogens Salvia divinorum, cocaine, heroin and ecstasy.
Many Lebanese attribute the spread of addiction to drug factories in areas controlled by Hizbullah in the border areas of Lebanon and Syria.
The Iran-backed party has been accused of providing protection to drug manufacturers and traffickers to generate revenue, at the expense of Lebanon's reputation and its relations with its neighbours.
Path to addiction
"My journey with drugs began at the age of 14 for many reasons, including the loss of family security, because our home was turned into a shelter for those fleeing the Beirut wars in the 1980s," Khalil said.
There were other stressors, he said, including sexual harassment, family pressure to succeed at school and his father's departure to Cyprus, after which his grandmother took parental authority over him.
"I used all types of drugs, including hashish, heroin, marijuana, cocaine, crystal meth and salvia, but heroin was my drug of choice," he said.
"I used to buy it from dealers in the Bekaa Valley, whose affiliations are well known. I had to sell my gold and steal my mother and brothers' gold to buy drugs to calm the physical pain I felt."
In 2016, he said, "I decided to recover from my addiction after my friend died from an overdose."
"I blamed myself for her death, so I called Father Majdi Allawi, and went to rehabilitation treatment at a centre called Bonheur du Ciel, but after that, I went back to using heroin and other drugs in 2017 until the end of 2022."
"In 2022, I called Father Allawi again, who greeted me with 'welcome my son,' which I had never heard my own father say," Khalil said. "I completed my treatment at the centre and got over my addiction."
Harming Lebanese society
"Illegal drugs are grown in various regions, and their manufacturing, trade and trafficking are not limited to a specific group," said Allawi, who founded Bonheur du Ciel and the Karyet el-Ensen rehabilitation centre.
He told Al-Mashareq he blames "the entire political system" for the proliferation of illegal drugs in Lebanon, "because it drove our youth to either immigrate or use drugs", both of which are "destroying our society".
Lebanese security forces work constantly to combat drug trafficking networks and drug factories, a security source told Al-Mashareq, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"We also are raising awareness among the youth with campaigns to prevent the increase in crime," he said, noting that "drug use represents the most dangerous scourge faced by the youth and society".
"We monitor the movement, activities and smuggling operations of drug dealers, and co-ordinate with the Gulf and Arab countries to curb drug smuggling to those countries from Lebanon," the security source said.
"We are arresting dealers, traffickers and drug users on a daily basis," he added.
Hub for drug exports
Hizbullah has turned Lebanon into a platform for the export of all kinds of noxious substances while it hides behind a state that it controls, political writer Tony Boulos said.
The Lebanese government, over which Hizbullah holds sway, legitimises the group's actions, he said, pointing out that the Iran-backed party also has authority over border crossings and has presence at the airport.
The areas it controls in the Bekaa Valley and Beirut's southern suburb have become a safe haven for drug gangs, he said.
"Hizbullah provides a safe area, protects drug gangs and facilitates their movement in Lebanon to export and traffic drugs, which harm the Lebanese economy and the youth in Lebanon and Arab and Gulf societies," he said.
The party is responsible for the proliferation of illegal drug use among the youth, and for the export of drugs, he said, as "it cares only about making money, even at the expense of society's well-being and Lebanon's foreign relations".