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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Families turn drug addict relatives over to Abu Dhabi authorities as law change opens up treatment options

Police and prosecutors say rise in cases is to be welcomed as evidence users are getting help

Addicts require support in their fight to remain clean of drugs, experts say. Philip Cheung / The National
Addicts require support in their fight to remain clean of drugs, experts say. Philip Cheung / The National

Families are turning in loved ones who are using drugs ­after a change to the UAE’s narcotics law made treatment an ­option in many more cases.

More than 100 people came forward or were put forward for rehab in the year since the move last October, Abu Dhabi Judicial Department officials said on Sunday.

Until last year, drug addicts would have likely faced a mandatory four year jail sentence.

This was cut to two years and, in addition, judicial authorities were also given the option to treat users in rehab, and/or pay a fine, and spare them jail time.

Mohammed Al Dhanhani, head of the Bani Yas Prosecution office, said the change has contributed to an overall rise in the number of drug cases that the emirate has handled.

He said there were 2,182 cases of drug consumption between October 1, 2016, when the change in the law came in, and the last day of September, 2017.

This compared to 1,971 cases in the same period in 2015 and 2016.

Another factor that led to an increase, he said, was allowing anti-drug units the right to arrest suspects across the emirates, and no longer limiting them to one.

The law states that if a family member turns in a drug user, the addict can go straight to treatment.

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"Previously, the punishment was very strict. The person tries to hide from everyone, even their families," said Dr Al Dhanhani.

"But now the punishment is simpler, even the Dh10,000 fine, it is quite affordable."

He said the intention has never been to be soft on drugs, but to ensure users get the help they need, and to prioritise treatment over punishment.

Dealers and suppliers, on the other hand, are typically hit with lengthy sentences in prison.

Users themselves have also become educated about the new law and its legal proceedings, in some cases to the point of abuse.

"The defendant will tell me 'now you can release me because I am only accused of a misdemeanour", the prosecutor said.

"And some refuse to be sent to rehab and try to have their case dropped. They ask to go to court so they can pay the fine and leave to start consuming again."

Dr Al Dhanhani also said that dealers are known to have been using the more lenient sentences to encourage consumption

Colonel Abdulrahman Al Owais, deputy chief of the Federal Anti-Narcotics Department, said the law remains tough, and could hardly be seen as encouraging drug use.

"So the legislators were not aiming to encourage people to start consuming, but to turn themselves in, and this is reflected in an increase in the number of cases - which means we are heading in the right direction," he said.

One trend the authorities have seen recently is increasingly "creative and innovative methods used by smugglers," said Dr Al Dhanhani.

"Even the latest electronic devices cannot pick up some of these loads, unless we receive a tip.

"Among the strangest things we've seen is using plants to bring drugs inside the country, also even ovens packed with drugs. One shipment was caught more than two million pills [inside the oven].

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