Dozens of boys and girls between 14 and 18 have been taught how to prevent their friends from using drugs
Abu Dhabi rehab centre trains teens to be anti-drug ambassadors
A rehabilitation centre in Abu Dhabi is training teenagers to become anti-drug ambassadors.
In the past month, the National Rehabilitation Centre has taught 80 boys and girls, between 14 and 18 years old, how to prevent their friends from using drugs.
“The old method of visiting schools and lecturing pupils is not powerful enough and is too boring for them,” said Dr Anas Fikri, the centre’s acting head of health education.
“So we decided to do it in the form of a training course at the centre to focus on certain exercises.”
During the two-week camp, pupils were taught about the dangerous effects of drugs and how to identify addiction patterns.
They heard from former addicts, received training in self-development and produced projects to deliver to their peers.
The NRC will select “ambassadors” from the groups to receive further training and carry out prevention programmes for their peers.
The centre began the programme after an increase in younger people seeking help for drug abuse.
Recently, a 9-year-old boy was admitted to the centre by his parents after they suspected he was using hashish.
Dr Fikri said the boy was introduced to the drug by his “older teenage friends”.
This trend has also prompted the centre to work towards opening a ward dedicated to treating addicts under the age of 18.
Addiction among teenagers can begin with tobacco, said Khalid Al Salami, 39, a former addict who now guides patients to recovery.
He served as a mentor during the anti-drugs training programme.
“I became addicted when I was 17. I was in the age group that we are now targeting,” the Emirati said.
“It started as curiosity and a desire to show off. When a person has nothing to do and too much empty time, they become an easy target.”
Mr Al Salami dropped out of school at Grade 9. Feeling lonely and left out, he said he was lured by a group of young alcoholics.
“I saw them as cool people who were laughing and having a good time,” he said. “They shared their sorrows and concerns as well, so I wanted to be like them.”
Mr Al Salami started drinking alcohol heavily, until his family noticed and kicked him out of the house.
“Then a friend of mine gave me brotherly advice to switch to psychotropic pills instead, because it does not smell like liquor,” he said.
“At that point, an addict just wants to pull other people into addiction with him.”
Mr Al Salami said another “friend” tricked him into taking heroin, claiming they were the same as the pills, but in powder form.
This led to heroin addiction. He began selling drugs and was eventually arrested and imprisoned.
“I lost my father while I was in jail and I could not see him, but even that did not make me stop,” he said.
Mr Al Salami’s wake-up call came in 2014, after one of the men to whom he had sold drugs died.
“I was at home walking out of my room in a nirvana-like state and saw my mother in the sitting room sipping coffee,” he said. “I started thinking of the other guy’s mother – how was she feeling that her son died because of an overdose?”
He then told his mother that he would seek treatment and quit drugs.
After spending five months in rehabilitation, he mastered his addiction, finished his studies and is now studying for his master’s. Mr Salami married a year ago and hopes to be an example to others.
A 2015 report, from the UN office of Drugs and Crime, revealed that more than 480 new types of drugs made from other drugs have been discovered.
“They are changing the names and way it looks,” Dr Fikri said. “If it was a pink pill they make it white and mix it with other substances” to avoid it being recognised by authorities, Dr Fikri said.
He gave the example of the “zombie drug” flakka, which was linked to 63 deaths in Florida in 16 months and banned in the UAE last year.
“Flakka is a new form of crystal myth,” Dr Fikri said. “They changed some of the chemical properties of the substance to make it more difficult for authorities to detect it.
“So we have to keep an eye on many things. Whatever is the update in the drug market, we have to update our detection methods and look for new ways to prevent addiction.”