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Most addicts in rehab return to drugs, police study finds

About two-thirds of the people sent to the emirate's drug rehabilitation programmes return to substance abuse, according to a police study.

ABU DHABI // About two-thirds of the people sent to the emirate's drug rehabilitation programmes return to substance abuse, according to a police study. The research, called Back to Square One and published in the Ministry of Interior's January issue of 999 Magazine, said young parents, polygamy and weak religious adherence were among the key reasons behind the relapse rate.

In the US, the National Institutes of Health reports drug rehabilitation success rates ranging from 40 to 60 per cent. Dr Hamad bin Abdullah al Ghafiri, the general director of the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) in Abu Dhabi, told the magazine that the causes for starting drug use were often the same as those that led to recidivism. Many of those treated had a family history of divorce, parental illiteracy, family disintegration and bad friends.

He added that many who finished rehab were unable to re-integrate into families and society. A top police official said the centres were at capacity, although he declined to give the exact number of patients because it was a "confidential" issue. The centres already had patients on waiting lists, a problem only somewhat alleviated by sending them to affiliated clinics, he said. Dr al Ghafri said in an interview that the treatment centre had 28 beds, with about that many people on the waiting list.

All patients' identities were carefully protected, he said. All were Emiratis, although people of any nationality were eligible. Dr al Ghafiri called addiction a serious and complicated disease, and said that 50 per cent of users also suffered from psychological diseases. Treatment involves several phases, including the removal of toxins from the body and psychological and physical rehabilitation treatment by a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and nurses.

Officials said former patients were required to undertake regular check-ups for two years. Lt Col Hassan al Shamsi, the head of the anti-narcotics department at the Ministry of Interior, told 999 that the federal anti-narcotics law did not allow charges against those who took drugs or illegal psychotropic substances if they turned themselves in to seek treatment, unless they failed to report all the illicit substances in their possession.

Ahmad Abdulzaher, a legal consultant at the Ministry of Interior, said a person caught with drugs could be sentenced to up to four years in jail and fined up to Dh10,000 (US$2,700). He said anyone, whether expatriate or Emirati, could turn himself in, but the authorities had the legal right to order deportation for non-nationals. The judge can decide to send them to rehabilitation, but the Ministry of Interior has the authority to deport them.

"If they have the choice between rehabilitating them or deporting them, they would probably choose deportation," Mr Abdulzaher said. Sayed Abo Zahra, a lawyer, confirmed that expatriates who turned themselves in might be deported. "We cannot guarantee this, because there are no clear-cut regulations when it comes to deportation. The Ministry of Interior has full authority [to deport anyone]," he said.

He advised drug addicts to take a lawyer when going to police to make sure they were not arrested. "It's even better if someone writes a letter to Public Prosecution requesting to take advantage of the federal law. This is the best way to do it," Mr Zahra said. According to Lt Col al Shamsi, the ministry plans to combat narcotics by stepping up inspections and arrests, diversifying its sources of drug dealing and trafficking information, providing more training and enhancing GCC, Arab and international co-operation.

He told the magazine that the number of people arrested for drugs was "going towards decreasing" in the past few months. The National Rehabilitation Centre has an agreement with the Sheikh Khalifa Fund for Support and Development of Small and Medium Enterprises to provide opportunities for the centre's patients to reintegrate into society. Another agreement, with the Takatof volunteering programme, is designed to engage patients in volunteer activities to hone their communication and leadership skills.

The national centre was established in 2002 and has treated 300 Emirati drug addicts. Besides free rehabilitation services provided to patients, the centre provides financial help to their families. The centre plans to open a unit to treat women, because officials "noticed the existence of this issue among women, especially young women", according to the study. The centre is working with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to conduct a nationwide study of drug abuse. It will be used to draw up a strategy and train Emirati drug specialists.

@Email:hhassan@thenational.ae

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