Last month, police arrested a man they called "the most dangerous drugs dealer in the UAE". The suspect was caught with 6.2 kilograms of hashish, 32 grams of heroin, 42 Tramadol pills, crystal methamphetamine and Captagon pills. For a country that is generally considered to be relatively drugs-free, it was an ominous haul.
There have been too many similar stories about drugs busts lately: the police caught a man with more than 22,000 Tramadol pills; two men were found in possession of heroin, hashish and Tramadol; and a gang was apprehended after an attempt to smuggle 16 kilograms of heroin into the county. These are just some of the stories that have been reported - this month alone.
The country is known for its zero-tolerance drugs policy, but the spate of arrests prompts a question: how bad is the underground situation?
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime classifies the UAE as one of the top destinations and transit countries for illegal drugs. According to its World Drug Report 2012, the amount of heroin seized in 2010 amounted to more than 200 kilograms; other illicit drugs included hashish, cocaine, opium, khat, cannabis, poppy seeds, Captagon, crystal methamphetamine and Tramadol.
Tough drug enforcement has a proven track record. Despite the recent stories, records showed a remarkable drop in the number of seizures last year. There also have been welcome new initiatives focusing on rehabilitation. This year, the National Rehabilitation Centre has developed a treatment programme that include outpatient as well as inpatient services. The centre also introduced a new curriculum, in collaboration with Abu Dhabi Education Council, to educate pupils on the dangers of drug abuse.
These efforts were needed. As society develops - and becomes more open to the world - stories about drug-related crimes will continue to make headlines. But the country has made good progress in tackling the problem. Tough laws and enforcement, education, and rehabilitation programmes are all part of the solution.
Authorities should take the recent cases seriously, and consider whether there is a trend that needs to be examined. As any drugs-treatment professional will tell you, prevention is by far the best cure.