ABU DHABI // Drug rehabilitation centres will be set up inside jails to combat drug use among prisoners.
"We are currently studying the project and it will be raised to the Interior Minister for approval," said Dr Hamad al Ghaferi, director general of the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC).
The centres will be the first of their kind in the Gulf region.
"It will be a full complex that covers all aspects of treatment and rehab. It is still unclear at which stage the convicts will be taken to the centre," Dr al Ghaferi said.
The project was announced during a conference on drug use in the region held by the NRC in Abu Dhabi and the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC).
Egypt is also beginning such a programme for inmates, said Dr Nasser Loza, a representative from the Egyptian interior ministry and director of the Behman Hospital.
"The problem we have in Egypt is that it is optional for the judge to refer a drug convict to treatment and rehab. So in the past 20 years only two cases were referred," he said.
The conference illustrated the challenges the UAE and the region faced in combating the drug trade, experts say.
Many delegates said drug addicts should be treated as patients rather than criminals, and that prison was a substitute for treatment.
Their discussions painted a detailed picture of drug use in the region and the need to fight smuggling through the UAE. Geographically, the country lies between drug-producing countries and importers, which makes it attractive to smugglers, Dr al Ghaferi said.
Others noted signs of progress in controlling access to drugs, including a decline in heroin addiction in the region following Taliban campaigns against production after they took control in Afghanistan.
Dr Abdullah al Sharqi, an expert in addiction psychiatry at the Specialised Psychiatric Clinics (SPC) in Saudi Arabia, said he noticed a drop in heroin use compared with when he began treating drug addicts.
“The decrease became evident in 1995. Before, the majority of the addictions I treated were from heroin, but now I barely receive one case a month,” he said. “Production of heroin played a role in this decline, because most of it globally was produced
in Afghanistan, but when the Taliban took over production was decreased.”
He said even though Afghanistan was producing some heroin again, there were still fewer cases because of media campaigns focusing on the dangers of the drug.
Regional experts agreed that the most common type of addiction is abuse of prescription drugs. “Hash and captagon are still common drugs, but what is starting to spread is addiction to sedative pills, such as Valium and Xanax. Also a new trend in the Gulf is Ecstasy, known as the dance drug,” said Dr al Sharqi.
Xanax and its generic equivalents have become popular mostly among women, he said. “The problem with Xanax is that it is easy to get addicted to. If an addict who takes 10 or 15 pills stops suddenly, it could lead to death or epilepsy,” he said.
Ecstasy, often taken at nightclubs, is also becoming more popular. He warned of its dangers, as it could cause immediate death from heart failure.