x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Breaking taboo key to dealing with drugs issue

Zero-tolerance laws alone cannot tackle the UAE's drugs problems.

No country in the world has been immune to the ever-growing threat of drugs. And, as The National reported yesterday, statistical data on the true depth of the problem in the UAE is inadequate because of sporadic data collection but Dr Hamed Al Ghaferi, the general director of Abu Dhabi’s National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC), believes drug abuse has reached an “alarming” rate.

The vast majority of those who seek engagement with the NRC are Emirati men, but the number of women asking for help is also steadily rising. It is, in other words, an escalating problem and one that will not be curbed by this country’s zero-tolerance drugs laws. Tough legislation is one thing, an understanding of the root causes of drug abuse is another.

The successful treatment of addiction is far more than a legal issue. First and foremost – and however difficult this is – the dangers of drugs need to be part of an ongoing national conversation. One way to do this would be to step up outreach programmes in schools and awareness campaigns at large, with the aim of breaking the taboos and damaging stereotypes that inevitably envelop substance abuse. Another would be to fund further addiction centres, both as residential facilities and as drop-in units. Too often addicts are written off as frail, weak and untrustworthy individuals who are a curse on society, rather than looking at the deeper issues within the complex fabric of addiction.

A commitment to openness would assist those Emiratis already seeking help. It might even persuade more individuals to get assistance, even though another of the tricky stages of addiction is outright denial. Second, greater engagement with addicts promotes greater enquiry and may throw up new treatment techniques. This is a point underscored by Major Abdulrahman Al Ansari, the coordinator of a police forum on the topic, to be held in Dubai this week. “Because a method worked in the past, it does not mean it will work now,” he told The National.

Naturally, enforcement agencies need to be ever-vigilant to stop the problem at source. Organised crime and drugs distribution work hand in hand. But they also need to find ways to work with addicts, many of whom fear that they will be carted off to jail rather than be checked into rehab if they admit to having a drug problem. A change in such perceptions would encourage more people to seek help.