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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Anti-drug law is a step in the right direction

Treating abuse as a health issue, rather than a crime, will produce better results all round
A patient takes part in a drug trial in the city of Indore, India. New ways of deal with drug abuse are being considered in the UAE (Gethin Chamberlain for The National)
A patient takes part in a drug trial in the city of Indore, India. New ways of deal with drug abuse are being considered in the UAE (Gethin Chamberlain for The National)

Continued drug abuse around the world highlights the need to rethink the means of controlling this menace. More and more countries have begun changing their approach in recent years, focusing more on prevention and rehabilitation. It is time for us to have this difficult but necessary conversation.

As The National reports, a new law downgrades drug consumption to a misdemeanour, and reduces the four-year minimum sentence to two. The Attorney General also has the power to send an offender for treatment without the case going to court. Options for first-time offenders include sending them to a treatment or rehabilitation centre, a maximum fine of Dh10,000, or community service. With the cooperation of their families, drug users will no longer have to go to court and will automatically be referred to a rehabilitation clinic for treatment.

The new law will benefit the country in many ways. It will reduce the burden on the criminal justice system. Prosecuting and sentencing drug addicts, and putting them in prison for four years, is costly and time-consuming, and doesn’t help to address the root causes of abuse. It also does not take into account that some addicts are tricked or pressured into taking up their habit, or have serious psychological issues that can be treated. The law will also help encourage users who want help to kick their habit to come forward.

At the same time, the country must continue to target drug trafficking by cracking down on drug dealers and thwart the illegal drug trade at every opportunity, including cooperation with international authorities to track down the sources of supply and manufacture. There can be no compromise in an unwavering crackdown on the supply chain.

This has proven effective in many countries. And those that concentrate on treating addicts have reported positive results. Treating drug use as a health issue, and referring users to social workers, psychologists and medical professionals, produces better outcomes than locking people up.

The new law is a positive step towards tackling the issue. If we continue to shift the focus to developing policies on prevention, treatment, harm reduction and rehabilitation, we will turn around the lives of many drug users, their families and others who are affected by their behaviour.

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