x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Addiction is more an illness than a crime

Laws must deal harshly with drug traffickers and dealers but a policy where addicts are treated as criminals before they are treated as patients has limited benefits.

Drug abuse in the Gulf region is on the rise, particularly among women and the young, the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) in Abu Dhabi and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) revealed in October. "This raises alarms, and we need to work on what the problem is and work on the solutions," Dr Hamad al Ghaferi, the director general of the NRC, the country's only drug rehabilitation centre, said at the time.

The news motivated the NRC and UNODC to establish a "centre of excellence" and a hub for treatment in the Middle East and North Africa region in Abu Dhabi, where experts and doctors will receive training to an international standard. The NRC currently has an 18-bed facility, but the new centre it plans to open will provide 200 beds for men and women by 2014. While this was a significant development in the fight against drugs, the battle has just begun.

Laws must deal harshly with drug traffickers and dealers but a policy where addicts are treated as criminals before they are treated as patients has limited benefits. A mechanism whereby addicts can voluntarily present themselves at rehab centres without having to consider the spectre of arrest would encourage more of them to come out of the shadows.

But the problem of drug abuse is at least coming into open, which will allow it to be treated. The authorities appear more aware that drugs are a growing danger, with increasing costs for families and the country. As The National reported yesterday, new drug rehabilitation centres - the first of their kind in the GCC - are to be set up inside jails to combat drug use among prisoners. The proposal is grounded in the reality that throwing drug-users in prison rarely solves their problem. Not only does jail-time cause psychological strain, but drugs are often readily available to prisoners. As jails help to address addiction, they can also address the supply of drugs by improving security and being more vigilant against smuggling.

To limit the dangers of drug addiction in the UAE, a comprehensive approach is required. Rehabilitation is necessary but also a costly and painful process. Programmes aimed at providing young people an awareness of the dangers of drugs are often the most effective and least expensive.