Owner Of Drug Rehab Center Faces 8 Years In Prison

The owner of an unlicensed drug rehab center that was engulfed by a deadly fire over the weekend could receive eight years in prison, according to newspaper El Comercio, citing lawyer Mario Amoretti.

Raul Garcia Albornoz, owner of the Christ is Love center in Lima’s lower-class San Juan de Lurigancho district, turned himself into police following the fire on Saturday.

Peru’s Public Ministry opened an investigation into the cause of the fire, which broke out when two patients set fire to mattresses in an attempt to escape. The fire swept through the ground floor of the overcrowded, two-story center, killing 27 people who were unable to leave because the doors were locked. The men, including two supervisors, died from smoke inhalation. Patients said they were forced to break the center’s doors with bricks. More than 32 people on the second floor, including two 13-year old boys, managed to leave the building unharmed.

The government is looking into whether or not the patients were held at the center against their will. “I’m innocent. This was a house of god,” says Garcia, whose 26-year-old son was one of the victims of the fire.

Amoretti says the Municipality of San Juan de Lurigancho may also face charges for negligence because the rehab center did not have a license to operate, and had been ordered to close down previously.

The incident has led to a call for the state to give greater priority in the treatment of individuals suffering from drug and alcohol abuse.

Carmen Masias, the recently-appointed head of Peru’s anti-drug agency Devida, said the state only provides 700 beds for the up to 100,000 registered addicts.

Masias, a psychologist who has worked on drug abuse prevention, said that the lack of state investment in rehabilitation has led to a number of informal centers, such as Christ is Love.

“The state has to have policies and it has to supervise these centers so they are also part of the system. The private sector needs to be incorporated,” says Masias.

The mayor of Lima, Susana Villarán, said her office has begun to coordinate with Devida to build the first city rehab center in downtown Lima, and that the Solidaridad hospital psychologists will continue providing support to the families that lost their relatives in the fire.

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