x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Hard facts behind drug problems

Officials are planning a wide-ranging study examining illegal drug habits and trends in the UAE.

ABU DHABI // Government representatives will meet today to begin hammering out a strategy to assess the extent and nature of drug addiction in the country.

The end goal of the three-year, Dh10 million project will be a national action plan to tackle the issue, officials said.

One priority will be to obtain solid data on the subject as little reliable information exists.

The National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) will work with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and other stakeholders to conduct a comprehensive study.

The number of addicts, their demographics, types of addictions, most popular drugs, and emerging substances and strategies for tackling drug abuse will be studied.

Dr Wadeh Maalouf, the project co-ordinator for prevention, treatment and rehabilitation at the UNODC, said the project was important, simply to get everyone involved on the same page.

"And then every side will know what their role is and how to co-ordinate with one another," he said.

Today's workshop will involve the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Affairs and Customs Department, among other parties.

According to international figures, addiction costs two to four per cent of a country's economy. That is equal to the cost of five Sheikh Zayed Mosques.

"So it is better to spend the money on prevention before it happens," said Dr Hamad al Ghafiri, the director general of the NRC, which is treating 560 addicts.

Moreover, there are new drugs emerging into the market every day, and such substances must be tracked for effective enforcement.

Dr Tarek Abduljawad, the medical director at the NRC, gave an example about a new brand of tea bags discovered a month ago that contained a substance called "spice" that had the same effects as hashish. The tea bags were available at the market and not illegal.

"We received young patients who brought it with them as the source of their addiction," he said.

UNODC has since declared the bags' active ingredient an illegal addictive substance.

In a separate project, the NRC plans to hold support and awareness sessions for four- to six-year-old children of addicts.

"We've noticed that children can be influenced by their parents' addictive habits. The parents think they are too young to notice, but they are wrong," said Dr Hisham Elarabi, the head of health and education research at NRC. "It is important to explain from an early age the things they see around them and how to deal with it."

The project is still just a vision and no details have been set on how, when and where to implement it.