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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Abu Dhabi judicial authorities to consider American-style drug courts

Officials look to the best treatment and handling of cases for addicts

Dr Hamad Al Ghaferi, director general of the National Rehabilitation Centre, speaks at a press conference last month. He said the agreement was the first of its kind between the centre and a private company and will provide opportunities for former drug addicts. Reem Mohammed / The National
Dr Hamad Al Ghaferi, director general of the National Rehabilitation Centre, speaks at a press conference last month. He said the agreement was the first of its kind between the centre and a private company and will provide opportunities for former drug addicts. Reem Mohammed / The National

Abu Dhabi is to consider introducing special courts that would deal solely with drug cases, as part of efforts to improve treatment and better manage addiction.

There are about 2,300 such courts in the United States that are focused on drug cases, including towards treatment and monitoring addicts in the justice system.

Dr Hamad Al Ghaferi, director general of the National Rehabilitation Centre, said that could be an opportunity to provide the best model, in terms of care and justice.

“The idea is that specialised experts will be involved in the trials. The judge would have a full understanding of the treatment process and he would follow up with its progress, and prosecutors as well," he said.

“We saw this in LA. The judge asks the patient (defendant) about his treatment, and he issues an order that would guarantee they won’t relapse during the trial period."

So the goal, he said, is that the legal process and treatment go side by side.

He said someone who sought and was successfully treated would meet with the judge, and that "good conduct" would be recognised.

The concept of drug courts will be discussed at a meeting of the International Society of Addiction Medicine, hosted by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, from October 26 to 29.

A special session will be held on addiction in the legal process.

"The judicial system is already very developed in Abu Dhabi, but we want to also look at ways to reduce costs, relapses and returns to addiction,” said Dr Al Ghaferi.

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The first drug court began operating in the Unites States in 1989, in Miami-Dade Country, Florida, as a response to the cocaine problem that was growing at the time.

Currently, all 50 states have functioning drug courts that treat around 120,000 people a year. They are run by individual states and counties, rather than by the federal government.

The model they follow combines judicial supervision, drug testing, sanctions and treatment to help offenders quit their addiction.

The UAE recently introduced measures that focus on rehabilitation of drug users and alternative punishment, as opposed to the previous stringent four year minimum sentence for all consumers.

In October last year, President Sheikh Khalifa updated the 1995 law to downgrade the use of illegal drugs to a misdemeanour with a two-year minimum sentence. It also gave judges options other than jail for first-time offenders.

With the permission of the Attorney General, an offender can be sent for treatment without the case going to court, after advice from police and prosecutions.

First-time offenders can be sent to rehab, fined a maximum of Dh10,000, or given community service.

This drove the NRC to start accepting expats for treatment since last January.

While UAE national can receive treatment and rehab at the centre free of charge, expats have to pay Dh120,000 for a four week in clinic treatment, if the addict enters the centre voluntarily.

If the addict was referred to the centre by a judicial order, they have to pay Dh 230,000 for six weeks in-clinic treatment, and 16 weeks that follow as outpatients.

Dr Al Ghaferi raised the prospect of health insurance covering addiction treatment in the future, which virtually no insurers do at present.

“We are working on amending the health insurance law so that it includes treatment of drug addiction,” he revealed.

“But even in the US, insurers only cover the first month of treatment only, which costs around Dh100,000. Just the detox phase, the rest is not covered," the doctor said.

The NRC begun accepting women addicts in 2012, and is currently treating about 60. It was also announced in July that a new drug rehabilitation centre will be built for women in Dubai.

The youngest patient seen in the UAE was 11 years old, he said. The rehab centre holds holding regular programmes with schools to advise and educate teenagers about the dangers of drugs.