x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Drug users start abuse from age 12: UAE report

The Ministry of Interior's 999 magazine says pills are passed off as vitamins to hook children, but police dispute those findings.

DUBAI // Drug abusers are just 12 when they take up the habit, while children as young as 10 have been offered heroin.

The average age an addict first encounters drugs has plummeted from 17 and 18 as dealers target younger and younger customers.

The shocking statistics were revealed in the Ministry of Interior's 999 magazine.

Older addicts - often still at school - help fund their habit by selling drugs to younger students, 999 says.

"The younger people are either misled into thinking that the drugs being offered to them are substances to help enhance their academic performance - tramadol is passed off as a vitamin, for instance - or that the substances are mildly mood lifting and, therefore, pose no great danger," the report says.

At younger ages, the drugs involved tend to be non-prescription, but these are later substituted for stronger, prescription-only medicines. In some cases, children as young as 10 are being offered hard drugs such as heroin.

The magazine surveyed a undefined number of young addicts and discovered that older children were also using the proceeds of their deals to fuel an expensive "partying lifestyle". The report states that police have given official warnings to schools and urged them to report cases. But the findings have been called into question by Dubai Police's anti-narcotics division.

"It is individual cases here and there but we cannot call it a trend. The average age for taking up drugs is still between 17 and 18 ," said Dr Juma Al Shamsi, head of awareness and precaution at the division. "We have registered cases of drug being trafficked in schools but schools are not more of a target than residential areas."

Some schools say they have noticed a growing problem.

Nasser Lone, assistant principal of the Al Ain English Speaking School, said: "We know this is an issue, and an increasing one in the expatriate community."

The school recently suspended pupils for using dokha - a tobacco smoked in a thin pipe - and spice, a synthetic cannabis, which was banned last year.

"Some younger children try it [dokha] out as an experiment but a couple of 14 and 15 year olds have become compulsive users smoke before coming to school," Mr Lone said, adding pupils and parents were made aware of the laws of both the school and the UAE.

"We also have the British Embassy coming in to talk to the pupils and have regular social education lessons to alcohol and drug abuse."

Last year the British Embassy in Dubai sent out a circular warning British teenagers against using spice and detailing the legal consequences of getting caught.

Mandy Smith, vice consul of the embassy, said research showed it was being widely used in schools.

Samira Al Nuaimi, a mum of five children at state schools in Abu Dhabi, said youngsters were always at risk of being influenced.

"Children who are ignored by their families tend to get influenced faster," she said. "Parents must have this discussion with their children and not be afraid to talk about drugs, no matter how young."

She believes boredom leads to bad behaviour, and encouraged parents to keep children engaged. "My children are in reading clubs and go to judo," Ms Al Nuaimi said. "This keeps them diverted and helps them make healthier choices."

Abdul Fatah Ali, whose son is at Al Ruwais Boys Primary School, said schools should do more to raise awareness. "The only way to ensure children don't get carried away is by giving them the right information."

Last year, the National Rehabilitation Centre launched a course on drug abuse for children aged 12 to 14 at state schools in the capital.

Officials said the youngest patient being treated at the centre was 15, with most youngsters they saw addicted to alcohol, tobacco, hashish and painkillers such as tramadol.

Officials say about Dh5 billion was spent treating drug addicts last year.

wissa@thenational.ae

aahmed@thenational.ae