x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

An ongoing battle against drug abuse

The introduction of digital prescriptions should provide many benefits in the UAE, whether by diminishing the abuse of drugs to avoiding unintended consequences of patients mixing medicines.

The introduction of an electronic system to monitor the prescription and sale of medicines in the UAE is a good step in combating drug abuse. As The National reported yesterday, the system will be launched in collaboration between the Ministry of Health and Dubai Police in the coming weeks to detect illegal practices by doctors, pharmacists or patients.

More control over prescribed drugs is certainly necessary in the context of high rates of addiction among young people, where the trend is towards prescription drugs such as Tramadol and away from heroin and other opiates. Dr Hamad Al Ghaferi, director general of the National Rehabilitation Centre, said during the Global Forum for Youth Leaders on Drug Use Prevention in February that this sector of drug abuse has increased rapidly in the past 10 years.

This new electronic system will help deter the irresponsible prescription and supply of drugs. A digital prescription will be made by a doctor and the patient will go to a pharmacist to collect it. The effect will be to ensure that the exact quantity and type of prescription drug is provided, eliminating the prospect of an addict gaining multiple prescriptions by visiting several doctors or reusing the same prescription at several pharmacies.

This new accuracy is primarily aimed at the supply of opiates, psychotropics and other narcotics, with the intention of reducing the incidence of drug abuse to avert addiction. However it is likely this system will have ancillary benefits in a wider context, such as when a patient gets prescriptions from two different doctors, each unaware of the other’s involvement. Tighter control of pharmacies might also lead to better regulation of drugs such as antibiotics, which are often overused in the UAE. A digital record-keeping system would also be a boon for data collection about the volume of drugs being consumed, helping the authorities to plan ahead and design policies.

Ensuring the effectiveness of such system, however, requires rigorous enforcement. Doctors and pharmacists need to be accountable for their actions, and particularly if they stray into illegal territory. Fines and threats of closure will help ensure their compliance, but having an electronic system such as this one is only a means to an end, not an end in itself.