x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Lessons on drug danger to be taught in schools

A drug awareness programme from the Abu Dhabi Education Council will instruct parents, teachers and pupils alike on how to protect children from drug abuse.

ABU DHABI // Teachers, parents and pupils will receive drug awareness and prevention lessons in the capital's state schools as part of the curriculum from next semester.

Children between the ages of 12 and 14 will have a course every week for about three months on the hazards of drug abuse. The move is an attempt to combat the alarming increase of young addicts, and reduce the country's costs for rehabilitation and treatment, officials said yesterday.

The curriculum has been developed by the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) and Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec). It is based on the European Union Drug Abuse Prevention Programme.

Starting next week with eight schools as a pilot, the first phase of the Fawasel (Unplugged) programme will involve training class teachers and social workers in delivering the course, and identifying children who are at risk of substance abuse.

The authority will also hold sessions for parents that will involve lectures, role-play and group work on tackling the problem.

Dr Hamad Abdullah Al Ghaferi, the director general of NRC, said the number of young abusers was increasing and posed a challenge to the community.

"Worldwide statistics shows that children as young as 11 have addictions," he said. "Our campaign wants to catch them young and focus more on prevention."

Dr Al Ghaferi said there were no figures on the rate of the problem and the age group of highest abusers.

The youngest patient being treated at NRC is 15. Most addicts are being treated for alcohol, tobacco and hashish use, but authorities said they are also seeing many youngsters overdose on pain killers like tramadol.

Officials said treatment of drug addiction costs between 1 to 2 per cent of the UAE's GDP, which could be as much as Dh5 billion.

Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, the director general of Adec, said school officials wanted to arm pupils with the skills to make the right decisions and keep away from temptations.

"We know this age group is most affected and are targeted by drug sellers," he said. "It is a worldwide issue and here too we've had some cases at schools, but very few."

Dr Hisham El Arabi, the head of the health, education and learning department at NRC, said they will also use the programme to study the size of the problem. "Two schools in every geographical location have been selected and the impact of the programme will be measured."

Based on the results, the course will be rolled out to all schools. The centre already conducts awareness sessions at some private schools in the capital.

The course for pupils will include providing them with information on the different types of drugs, their effects, self-control strategies, communication skills and ways to cope with negative feelings and stress.

Surveys will be handed out before and after the sessions, and pupils will take tests on the material they receive, to gauge the outcome.

In a week-long trainer session, educators, social workers and psychologists will be taught to spot abusers, at-risk individuals and provide support to pupils.

Dr Al Ghaferi said most drug-abuse cases are referred to them by the Abu Dhabi Police.

"With the co-operation of the education authority, we want to identify them early and get them on to a treatment."

"We are ready to accept all cases and rehabilitate them and it will all be done maintaining their confidentiality."

Officials said the stigma attached to the problem often delays treatment time, and the programme would be addressing that as well.

Dr Shamil Wanigaratne, the consultant clinical psychologist at NRC, said people are brought into treatment very late after their addiction is diagnosed.

"A lot of them come in for treatment when they are in their 20s and 30s, which could be after 15 years of their addiction."

He said late diagnoses have a big impact on the treatment cost, as well as personal and social implications.

The circumstances that lead to the abuse must be identified first, he said. "Factors like poverty and social hardship, which are often the reasons for many abusers, do not apply here."

In the Arab world, he said, parental discord, family breakdown and pressure to perform well at school are common reasons why children feel the need to resort to drugs. "We are now trying to find out the specific factors that influence youngsters in the emirate."

aahmed@thenational.ae