x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Drug addictions in Abu Dhabi on the rise

The National Rehabilitation Centre has treated 13.5 per cent more substance abuse addicts so far this year than in the whole of last year.

ABU DHABI // An addiction recovery centre for Emiratis in the capital has treated 13.5 per cent more substance abuse addicts so far this year than in the whole of last year.

An increasing number of youths seeking help for alcohol and drug addictions are contributing to the rise, said the director general of the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC), with patients as young as 15 being admitted for treatment.

“The figures are alarming,” said Dr Hamed Al Ghafiri. “Statistics show there is an increase in the demand for the service. Nowadays we are seeing patients from below the age of 18 and from both genders.”

Dr Shamil David Wanigaratne, a psychology consultant and senior adviser to the NRC director general, said about 3,500 addicts have sought treatment with the centre since it opened in 2002.

“The bulk of that has been in the last two to three years,” he said. “The patient numbers are increasing rapidly.”

Speaking on the sidelines of a training workshop for addiction professionals, Dr Wanigaratne said the majority of patients at NRC are men, though a rising number are adolescents.

An emirate-wide survey among schoolchildren is being planned by the centre to establish the prevalence of drugs among them.

A questionnaire will be sent to all schools in Abu Dhabi to find out attitudes towards illegal drugs, alcohol and prescription pills — and whether any pupils have dabbled in the substances.

It is one of many NRC initiatives targeting youths, another being the Unplugged programme, which launched earlier this year to teach children about the hazards of taking drugs and alcohol.

“Our aim is that every school in Abu Dhabi and, ultimately, the UAE, will have an addiction prevention programme,” said Dr Wanigaratne.

While the rising numbers of addicts asking for help is, in part, accounted for by an increasing willingness to seek treatment, there is no doubt that drug use is on the up, he said.

The most common addictions are alcohol, prescription opiates such as tramadol, illegal opiates such as heroin and amphetamine-type stimulants.

Dr Wanigaratne said abuse of prescription drugs is a problem that NRC wants to stop by preventing addicts abusing a loophole in the healthcare system that allows them to get several prescriptions at the same time.

“Some people go from doctor to doctor but we are working on systems that would prevent multiple prescriptions,” he said.

A goal of NRC, on Muroor Road, is to combat the stigma associated with addicts, said Dr Ali Hassan Al Marzooqi, the public health and research director at NRC.

“Rehabilitating the patient back into the community is something that needs to be addressed,” he said.

“Sometimes the families reject the patient. Sometimes the patient finds it difficult to get a decent job again or to find new friends or a new environment. He becomes isolated and that is when they go back to their old habit and relapse.

“At the end of the day, they are patients of different consequences and need to be helped.”

He said the problem of drugs is a rising burden worldwide – and a costly one.

“According to estimates, the cost of drug addiction is between 2 to 4 per cent of the total GDP in each country,” said Dr Al Marzooqi. “That is a huge figure.”

The central location of the UAE means it can be a hotspot for trafficking, making drugs more accessible, he added.

Another aim of the centre is to combat a dearth of trained addiction professionals in the UAE, including doctors, nurses, psychologists and social workers, said Dr Wanigaratne, speaking at the start of a five-day ACCE workshop held at the Al Raha Beach Hotel yesterday.

NRC aims to become accredited under the Asian Centre for Certification and Education of Addiction Professionals (ACCE) by the end of next year and then it will be able to train more professionals to work in the field.

Last year, a new treatment centre – the NRC-operated Khalifa Rehabilitation Clinic – opened in Khalifa City A to meet a growing demand for services.

A 200-bed NRC unit is also in the pipeline for Mafraq City, with work expected to begin soon.

People seeking help should call the centre’s hotline on 800 2252.

jbell@thenational.ae