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Imagine: Young Women Who Use Drugs in Lebanon

 Imagine, for a moment, that you are a young woman. Imagine then, that because of your gender and because of your age, your voice is always muted, and your decisions are not your own to make. Imagine that you are raped. Imagine the police confronting the person who assaulted you, asking them if they had sex with you with the intent of marrying you. Imagine, that if they answer “yes” to this question, then it would not be considered rape. Imagine that if you consumed drugs and were sent to jail as a result, you would be considered a prostitute. Yet the man who raped you would not be considered a rapist. For many Lebanese women, theyneed not imagine. This is the reality that they are confronted with.

 

On Tuesday Youth RISE membershad a panel conference with Adel Mashmouchi, the police general in charge of Lebanon's Office of Crimes and Drugs. In Lebanon, like in most place in the world, drugs and crime are always linked within policy. In these policies, there is no mention of drugs without mentionof crime. In Lebanon, the law dictates that if you are caught with drugs, evendrugs that are intended for your own use and your own use only, you have twooptions presented to you; 3 months to 3 years in jail, or, obliged to treatment even if you don’t need it  In Lebanon, most people do not differentiate between drug users, abusers and those are dependent on certain drugs. This law does not specify the amount of drugs thatcan lead you to incarceration, nor the maximum amount of time that you may berequired to be in rehab. It is well known among the people that there is wide spread violence through the form of torture (like for example, tying you and whipping you) within the prisons of Lebanon. A young lady who attend school near the institution said to me, “we can hear them yell”. When confronted with this, Adel Mashcmouchi entirely denied that there was any violence in the prisons. Lara, who was on the panel, had been slapped in the face twice by Mr. Mashmouchi five years ago when she asked to leave rehab andwas then sent to jail. Again, when confronted with this, he denied being ableto recall having slapped her twice, which comes as no surprise. When one inengages in continuous and normalized violence, there is a little reason to remember such habitual incidents. 

 

Officials physically abuse individuals, and out of the 31 women who were interviewed by Youth RISE, themajority of them reported fearing sexual assault while incarcerated. It is common for women to be asked to perform oral sex with the promise of being released. Even if the sexual favour is performed, they never do get to leave as a result. When I think of such things, I ask myself how could it be possiblethat the use of drugs could lead to a systematic removal of your dignity. Yesterday, in a Lebanese jail by the name of Roumieh, two inmates were killed by security when a protest broke out for the demand of better conditions within the jail.

 

When women leave jail, theyare disproportionately stigmatized by their communities which renders it difficult for them to find housing or employment. Even though many of them are incarcerated because of drug use, they are considered sex workers. Many women are psychologically traumatized for years after they leave jail and rehab facilities from the sexual, physically and verbal abuse that they weresubjected to. I was told, “some of them report crying everyday for a year afterthey are released, thinking of the things that happened to them”. 

 

After 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, the number of NGO's in Lebanon dramatically increased in number and continues to grow today. Why haven't they intervened in this massive violationof the rights of these women? Lucie , who has a masters in public health, explained to me “NGO's in Lebanon are a business. You see them with their iPhones, their Blackberries and driving in their expensive cars. They are disconnected from the need of the Lebanese people”. What I personally believe might be the problem is with some NGO's working abroad is that they chose to function as apolitical units, and as such, depoliticize the issues. They are accountable not to the people which they function to serve, but to their donors. “They workon short term non-sustainable projects,” says Sarah “they use big words in their reports but we see no change”. You cannot produce change in issues thatare directly linked to politics without working with the government and to believe that you can do so is to not be in touch with the complexities and tools needed for reform. This is not to discredit all NGO's, as some who work withyouth have done incredible work in this community, such as Skoun. These are the models to learn from and replicate whenever possible. 

 

When the panel conference came to an end, Mr. Mashmouchi left the stage furiously. Moments later he approached the Lebanese youth who had confrontedhim and asked them how they could speak in a such way of their own country infront of foreigners. When recounting what had happened, Sarah said to me, “of course we will tell them, we want the world to know. So that they might help us.”

 

After the international Harm Reduction Conference that took place in Lebanon in April 2011, the Youth RISE International Working Group in Lebanon felt the need to step forward and form a team in order to start an organization on the national level. This would allowthem to take action on drug policy issues locally, as well as educate them on Harm Reduction. Youth from Lebanon will be traveling to Toronto to train with TRIP! Skoun will be collaborating in building capacity for youth harm reduction locally in Beirut. Through international collaborations we can make a difference in raising awareness and building solidarity globally.

 

Dear TRIP! Community

I wanted to a moment to thank you for your very generous contributions towards my participation at the 2011 International Harm Reduction Conference in Beirut at the beginning of the month. It was a truly amazing and unique experience that allowed me to meet so many people from around the world who work in the same field and share the common goals of more sensible drug policy and more comprehensive harm reduction programs. 

The pre-conference that I attended was hosted by Youth R.I.S.E and took place in Jounieh, Lebanon. Youth R.I.S.E is a youth-led international network which aims to empower young people who are affected by drug use and policy to effectively work at systemic policy change to ensure that young people are included in harm reduction strategies as well as within the drug policy debate. Participating in the pre-conference was an inspiring experience. I think that it's important for youth to have a separate environment where they can speak about their challenges and strategize in a safe space. Together, we trained each other on the issues that were particular to the diverse communities we work in. After two days of capacity building, we were given the opportunity to identify the core issues we wanted to address at IHRA to help form the plenary that our international coordinator would deliver to the audience at the opening session (she did a very good job!). These extremely engaging processes, I believe, can be re-created on a smaller scale in our communities here in Toronto. There is no doubt that youth do want to be involved, and it takes more people such as yourself to gives them that opportunity :)

As a group, we collaborated to create a zine  about our experiences at the pre-conference and about our experiences as young people at the conference.  I've attached it above and I hope you find the time to read it! In addition, I was able to co-present with Lisa Campbell Salazar on Youth Friendly Harm Reduction to delegates from around the world. During the workshop we made a list of drugs that were not covered or received minimal coverage at the conference, but that youth frequently use. This shows that there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of tailoring harm reduction information and services to a broad audience. 

Thank you so much again, this has been a very valuable experience for me and one that I certainly will not forget!

 

Best,

 

Yamina-Sara Chekroun

For more information about Youth R.I.S.E please visit http://www.youthrise.org/.

 

p.s. more blog posts to come!!! 

TRIP! Highschool Workshops


So as the school year comes to an end, we here at TRIP! need to squeeze in a few more workshops in Toronto high schools.  TRIP! surveys have shown that youth are least likely to go to teachers or guidance counselors for information and most likely to go to TRIP! or friends. We believe that having a reliable and unbiased source of information to youth is extremely important when it comes to safer sex and drug use.


What our workshops include: 2 TRIP! workers educating students on harm reduction and staying safe. We explain who we are and what we do and move on to our beliefs here at TRIP! i.e., "providing peer based unbiased info", being a "non judgmental environment" and the like. We then go into talking about various substance groups, the importance of harm reduction and the stigma that can be found around many substances and routes of administration. We can also go into detail and answer questions or concerns students often have, and provide honest answers.

If you know of a school or other organization that you think would like to have us/ would benefit from one of our workshops drop us a line , we'd love your suggestions! 

Cognitive Effects of Ketamine, Cannabis and Poly-Drug Use

Researchers at Ryerson University are interested in studying cognitive performance associated with the effects of ketamine, cannabis and other recreational drugs, in comparison to the performance of drug-naïve participants. Your participation will require completing questionnaires about drug history and experiences associated with both legal and illegal drugs. Questions about personal experiences may cause psychological discomfort. In addition, you will be asked to complete various measures regarding your experiences, thoughts, and feelings, as well as virtual-reality and other computerized tasks measuring navigation and memory skills. Information learned about you in this study will be maintained secure and confidential within our lab.

We are recruiting individuals that currently use ketamine or cannabis at least once per month. We are also recruiting individuals who are currently using other recreational drugs (all types), as well as drug-naive participants. Overall, participation will take 2-3 hours, for which you will receive $10-15. Your participation in any/all components of the study will be on a voluntary basis. You must be between the ages of 18-60 to participate. 

Please contact the BIM Lab at (416)979-5000 x2192 or bimlab@psych.ryerson.ca 

Calling all Youth HIV/AIDS Peer Educators!

Interested in HIV and sexual health? Passionate about the arts? Under 30?! Inspired by “Empower: Youth, Arts, and Activism – An HIV/AIDS Arts Activism Manual for Youth by Youth ,” this project will train youth to use a community‐arts based approach to HIV prevention and other sexual health issues. We are accepting applications until March 30, 2011.

You can download the the full application package here. 

You may also download the application form in word. 

For more info check out www.empoweryouth.info !

Help TRIP! Represent @ IHRA 2011

Dear Friends and Community Members,

Beirut PostcardAs you may know, I have been fundraising for my airfare to the International Harm Reduction Association Conference (IHRA)  which will be happening this April in Beirut, Lebanon. I am proud and extremely pleased to announce that with the help of TRIP! Coordinator and North American Youth RISE  rep Lisa Campbell Salazar I've been able to raise $900 so far!

I feel so incredibly lucky to be receiving this amazing and motivating support from members of our global community! I am still a bit a way from being able to cover the airfare and any contribution would be greatly appreciated! Every cent counts and you can donate through the blue Canada Helps Button securely online. As well, I look forward to sending contributors postcards from Beirut, so please leave me your address if you would like to receive one! 

Thank you so much to everyone who has been donating, attending this conference will be a really big step for the TRIP! project as we expand our knowledge on harm reduction. Toronto is home to a very diverse community and we look forward to being able to serve it in a culturally adapted way and hope that this conference gives us the tools to reshape and refine our harm reduction skills as well as learn from global leaders in harm reduction. Make sure to stay posted to the TRIP! blog as Lisa and I will be updating it daily from the conference with relevant information to our community as well as with pertinent news from  IHRA. 

Thank you so much,

Yamina-Sara C.
Outreach Worker
TRIP! Project
www.tripproject.ca
Queen West Community Health Centre
168 Bathurst Street, 
Toronto ON M5V 2R4
Phone: (416) 703-8482 ext. 125
Fax: (416) 703-7832

Twitter: http://twitter.com/tripproject

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/tripproject

Holy Smokes!

Holy Smokes Pt 2: Tobacco and Other Smokable Herbs

Welcome to the new TRIP! Project Community Zine on tobacco and harm reduction! Be sure to click on the image above to get your copy of the PDF fresh off the press. This issue we will be exploring tobacco, one of the most prevelent drugs out there. The articles within this zine are a collaborative effort featuring a collection of youth voices from our community with the focus on tobacco and harm reduction. The goal of this zine is to offer information that will empower youth to make healthier lifestyle choices around tobacco and other smokable herbs. The articles featured in the zine focus on a variety of topics including tips for quitting smoking, cutting down, emerging trends, personal reflections and poetry of individuals affected directly or indirectly by smoking. The opinions expressed in this zine are those of their respective authors and may include some bias as they reflect our diverse community. Think critically while reading! Learn more about smoking and harm reduction by checking out Holy Smokes pt 1, with a focus on pot.

Holy Smokes:

Introduction for Occasional and Chronic Users

Holy Smokes The most useful plant on earth! The devil weed! Cannabis (a.k.a. pot, marijuana, weed, herb, bhang, ganja, grass, dagga, keif, kanabosm, asa, reefer, tai-ma or its innumerable other names) is one of the most charged words in our language for it represents what is arguably the most controversial plant of modern times. The very utterance of its name can arouse a full range of emotion and passion from hate to love, fear to bliss and all points in between. Indeed a visitor to our world might be very confused as to all the fuss over this seemingly benign, spindly and unassuming herb. Yet its physical humbleness masks the great influence this plant has had on human psyche and society - to such a degree that people have even pledged their lives to its propagation or eradication.

 

 

Check out our new interactive online exploration of cannabis!

 

So You Think You Can Rave?

So you Think you Can Rave?!
 
The TRIP! Project is looking for experienced dancers, musicians, visual arts/fashion specialists or other talented ravers looking to spread their arts-related skills in a series of workshops to take place from March - June on Saturday afternoons.

We’re looking for ravers, partiers and other talented artists to teach different skills that would be associated with the rave subculture. This can include different forms of dance, fashion design, media arts, music production/DJing or other rave-related skills! Honorariums ($$) will be awarded to all of those selected to facilitate (teach) each session!

Think you can do it? Send us your portfolio, a video, or flaunt your talents in person! Send a summary of your experience to info@tripproject.ca before Wednesday, February 16th and we’ll see what you’ve got!

“Institution is not just a place, it's the way people think”

Prison Industrial Complex

When we strive towards the common goal of harm reduction, it is best done through community participation. The more allies we have, the stronger we are. The more familiar we become with the struggle of others, the more we learn about our own and acquire new skills and tools to further our cause. On Saturday January 22nd I sat in on a Community Justice Coalition meeting. The topic was, but not limited to, the prison industrial complex. That may sound like a mouthful, so let me take a moment to explain. The prison industrial complex is a term that is often used to describe the manner in which  the rapid expansion of people in prison is linked to the influence of private prison companies and businesses that supply goods and services to government prison agencies. The people who promote this are more interested in making a profit rather than rehabilitating individual or actually reducing the crime rate. As such, many people end up institutionalized for the wrong reasons. These can be substance use and disability which results in the criminalization of both drug users and people with disabilities. In some of the saddest instances, they end up dying in the institutions from lack of proper medical care or harm reductions supplies.

The Community Justice Coalition came together in February of last year to resist the Harper government's “Law and Order” agenda which seeks to lock away more people and for longer periods of time. The conservatives have put forth over 16 new crime bills which plan on increasing state control by removing power out of the hands of individuals and increase prison spending. They have put forth these bills while trying to convince the public that they will increase safety and diminish crime but there is more evidence to suggest that community organizations, income subsidies and effective drug and harm reduction do this best. The bills that our government are trying to pass will have impacts not only on individuals, but on families, youth and society as a whole. 

How did this happen and how could there be such attempts at disempowering the public? The answers may be found when looking through a historical lens the Canadian governments past actions when dealing with marginalized peoples. At the meeting we viewed as a group a documentary called "The Freedom Tour" which documented the work of People First of Canada, a group dedicated to putting people first in communities and deinstitutionalization. This documentary provided us with a visualization of peoples experiences,  a very powerful tool indeed. We saw that people who were institutionalized not too far from our own homes were forced to participate in unpaid work, had no privacy and were subject to both corporal and emotional abuse.  We saw people with mental disabilities trapped in these institutions, when what they needed was to be part of the community.  These institutions were places like the Michener Centre, where there was widespread sterilization, sexual abuse and neglect in the facilities. People with disabilities who died here were sent to the centre's cemetery, and their families seldom notified of their passing. The Valley View Centre where the abuse was so bad and the care so entirely poor that when an individual tried to run away, he seizured while trying to jump a train and lost both legs which had to be amputated. When he was returned to centre, he tried twice again to escape. This time in a wheelchair. What does this say about our institutions? It tells us that they are imperfect and that they are in need of reform. It tells us that there needs to be more community input. 

People in institutions still need representation and support and it is important to realize that we can not take pieces of peoples lives as though we are entitled to it, because systematic institutional organization tells us we are permitted to. These institutions are not the working of a healthy, free and democratic nation. In addition, institutions and prisons that will be built under Harper's agenda are both counter productive and are not treatment centres. In 2010, the Correctional Investigator  completed two separate reports concerning the deaths of two prisoners in federal custody- an Aboriginal man and a female youth. Negligence and segregation played a role in both of these deaths. 

As we can see, prisons and institutions are not the right places for community members to receive treatment and especially not youth. Unfortunately, Bill C-4 recommends that we send youth to institutions and enforce it with more vigour than in the past.

 

What is Bill C-4?

 

Summary:

The purpose of this bill is to amend certain provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act to emphasize the importance of protecting society and to facilitate the detention of young persons who reoffend or who pose a threat to public safety.

 As such, to name a few things that it can do: 

 

  • establishes deterrence and denunciation as sentencing principles similar to the principles provided in the adult criminal justice system 
  • expands the case law definition of a violent offence to include reckless behaviour endangering public safety
  • amends the rules for pre-sentence detention to facilitate the detention of young persons accused of crimes against property punishable by a maximum term of five years of more 
  • requires the Crown to consider the possibility of seeking an adult sentence for young offenders 14-17 years of age convicted of murder, attempted murder, manslaughter of aggravated sexual assault

 

When reading these provisions, it important to keep in mind that one in four females and one in ten males have mental health problems at the time they are sent to prison.

How do we deconstruct these issue and ensure that the needs of real people take precedence over that of so called “institutional efficiency?” As is illustrated with the examples provided above, the Canadian government has had a tendency to act like some lives are worth more than others and that some lives are mores deserving of the liberty and freedom on which we pride ourselves as members of Canadian society. We must call for is seeing people for who they are rather than the labels that are attached to them. Is is our duty, if not our obligation, to do so. 

For more information about the People First of Canada, please visit

http://www.peoplefirstofcanada.ca

Drug Induced Psychosis: A Personal Story


Drgu Induced PsychosisI want to start at the very beginning of my story: I have always had an addictive personality and addiction runs in my family. In Grade 9 it was drinking, Grade 10 came weed, cigarettes, ecstasy, mushrooms, cocaine, ketamine. Grade 11 came nitrous, acid and then there was M3 (mixture of meth, coke, and k). I wanted everything but I never knew when to cut myself off. I would steal and lie just to get what I needed to get high. We had a support group of about 14 of us, we would constantly want to get high, find new links for each other and make each other all feel relatively normal. Most of us were functioning in our daily life, saving the drug use until the weekend, while others were already starting to slip mentally and going on binges. It’s a scary moment for anyone when you realize one of your best friends doesn’t think they’re living on the same planet anymore. I was that friend. A few of the people in my group would sometimes have little mental break downs or show signs of not being stable, but I was constantly not okay. I now know what happened to me was a mixture of all the drugs I had been doing leading up to the disastrous point that put all my brain chemical levels out of whack. It may be hard to believe but it’s not so hard to get lost into believing that what you see and hear is real no matter how extreme it may be.

When the hallucinations started I was sitting in the usual apartment where I normally did all my drugs at, watching TV. It was around 4 am... Earlier that night I went to a rave, did some ecstasy, but felt relatively sober. All of sudden, the subtitles at the bottom of the TV started speaking to me, saying the world was going to end and specifically saying my name. At that moment, three of the people I was with decided to go to the store, leaving just one guy sitting on the couch with me who I barley knew and my other friend sleeping in the chair. Next thing I know the TV is telling me I have ten seconds to save the world by having sex with this guy next to me to prove my dedication to God or else the world would explode and we would all die. (I was also an atheist by the way). You think that’s fucked up? Well get this, I drag the guy into the bedroom, we have sex and I think he is aware of everything too because he was reading the TV just like me.  After that, I just sat back down kept reading the TV because I knew this godly controlling power had better thank me for what I had done. Next thing I knew it started telling me to go to sleep, and when I wake up I will be in a better place. So I go lay down on the bed, close my eyes and start holding my breath. At this point my head is spinning, I can’t believe whats going on, I just saved the world and I’m going to wake up in paradise.  So now I’m basically lying down trying to commit suicide, just by holding my breath as long as possible. There were points where I thought I could literally feel my body floating away from the bed. All of a sudden I'm like, “Wait I can’t die here I want to die in my own home.” So I go home with my friend and cry in bed all night thinking I’m getting signs sent from God from everywhere. I even lit candles for my parents to find me in the morning.

Finally, I fall asleep. When I wake up I feel like I’m in a new dimension where everything’s the same but I’m this prodigy and the TVs are talking about me, and all the lights are the worlds cameras into my life. They exist to prove I am real and I saved the world, I would read books and it would be God sending me messages. I would talk to my friends in riddles because I thought I couldn’t seriously tell them what happened, just hint at it or I would get in trouble. I thought everyone was constantly watching me on YouTube so I wouldn’t eat so I wouldn’t have to barely ever go to the bathroom. I would yell at people on the streets because they would glance at me. Even though I was really abrasive, no one around me really even started asking me why I was acting like this for almost a month. I even had a job at the time working for my cousin. I tried to be nice and polite but I still thought everything was revolving around me so every sentence I heard was something twisted having to do with me. I’d think shadows were real, hear noises and think they were spirits. Eventually my closest friends would be crying in front of me but I just couldn’t understand why. My cousin who I was working for finally managed to bring me to the hospital. I thought I was there so they could run tests and the world would know I was real. They forced me up to their mental health ward and put me in a room. At this point I was 5’2 and 92 pounds and I totally thought I had changed the world for the better.  This was the end, I would be queen of this world with this guy (who I thought was the devil) who would be king and my best friend was Jesus-- that’s how everything had come to be. So I get out of the hospital, another month passes by, even after all the medication they were giving I was still psychotic. By this time I realized I’d have to pretend to agree with everyone or else I’ll have to be in the hospital.

The first day back at school this random girl is talking about how the babies are dying in some country and my whole brain snaps back. I don’t know if the medication just decided to kick in or what it was about that moment, but I finally realized everything wasn’t real from the moment with the TV to the 3 months after. That day I went home and didn’t leave my house for months, other then to just see my psychiatrist. I even contemplated suicide holding a knife to my wrist but just couldn’t seem to press down hard enough.

Only one of my best friends stayed with me throughout this dark period in my life. It’s really difficult to understand why these things happen to people who may not necessarily deserve it. For me personally even though it took me a hell of a long time to come to this conclusion, I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s scary that such a horrible thing could bring so much good out of me. I now want to work in mental health and addiction, I want to show people they’re not alone and there is hope. To this day I take Lithium which is a mood stabilizer for people diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Even though I don’t do drugs, sometimes it causes me to black out when I drink so I still have to be very careful.

Drug induced psychosis isn’t something you can recognize in people everyday; as you can see it took months for me to get help. If you know anyone who might be suffering from mental illness, help them see a therapist or talk to their loved ones. You might just save their life. Remember even though they may hate you at this moment, they will thank you for the rest of their life.


After reading this you may think it’s a joke or made up but it’s not, it’s my life and if you ever know someone or hear of someone or even see that guy talking to himself on the side of the street don’t laugh. That person would never want to be in that situation for a million years but for some reason they are. All you can do is try and get them to help or show your support towards how necessary mental health resources are in our community. And one last thing, if you have gone through something similar to this remember you are not alone.    

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