DUBAI // Drugs and alcohol may produce a temporary high, but can lead to long-lasting pain, depression or even death later, diplomats and police told more than 250 pupils from six British schools yesterday.
Experts, speaking at a conference in Dubai hosted by the British Embassy and the General Department of Community Service, said they were most concerned about the abuse of prescription painkillers and sleeping pills.
"The most common things we see are related to hashish and opium but also increasingly painkillers and sleeping pills," Musa Guled, a psychologist with Dubai Police, said after his presentation at Le Meridian Hotel near Dubai International Airport. "I would say that about one per cent of our cases involve people taking heroin."
He said a bigger concern was the misuse of the painkiller Tramadol and the anxiety medication Xanax.
"Although they are only available through prescription in government hospitals and GPs some people also sell them on the black market," Mr Guled said.
"This is why when we go into schools, universities and businesses we try to inform people of the dangers. People start taking them because they think it will help them relax but they have serious side effects and should only be taken if they have been prescribed to you by a doctor."
The effects of the drugs can be potentially life threatening and they may cause a variety of problems.
"Tramadol can cause insomnia, heart palpitations and headaches," said Dr Ayah Shaarawy, a pharmacist at the general department of anti-narcotics at Dubai Police, during her presentation to students and teachers. "You'll get a high on the first day and become dependent from the first week."
As is the case with many narcotics, the body quickly becomes accustomed to the drug which, in turn, results in higher doses being required for the same effect, she said. "Once someone becomes addicted, we have had cases where they sign up with numerous doctors to get more prescriptions, ask for refills, or simply try stealing the drug."
Taking the drug with alcohol, tranquillisers, sedatives or other painkillers such as morphine was potentially fatal, she said. "Withdrawal symptoms can be very severe and I would advise anyone to seek professional treatment instead of going cold turkey."
Some of the more serious side effects of Xanax are depression, chest pain, hallucinations and jaundice.
"Yusuf", a 27-year-old Emirati, told the young people about his experiences with drugs. "I started on heroin because my friends were also doing it," he said, adding that he began taking drugs at school. "I didn't worry about getting caught by the police. The only thing I wanted was the feeling I got from heroin.
"It got to the point where I began selling the drug because it was the only way I could get money to buy more. All of my friends who took it are now dead, but at the time the only thing in my mind was getting the next high."
He said he eventually gave up his drug use after seeing how other people were living their lives, and decided he had enough.
Another part of yesterday's anti-drug message came in the form of a demonstration by Dubai Police's drug dog. The dog sniffed out concealed drugs during a line-up, and found a packet hidden in the room.
"It's been a very interesting event and I learnt a lot," said Andy Breslin, a 17-year-old pupil at Jumeirah English Speaking School Arabian Ranches. "It was good to know why the rules are as they are."
Mandy Smith, the vice consul at the British Embassy in Dubai, said the embassy had been running awareness campaigns for the last two years to educate British citizens about UAE laws and customs.
Call Dubai Police's drug awareness hotline on 800 400 400 to report illegal drug use or seek help confidentially.