x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Painkiller abuse to blame for three quarters of drug overdoses, UAE doctors say

Abuse of opioids - painkillers prescribed to patients suffering from any form of chronic physical pain - is predominantly found in the younger generation, according to statistics by the National Rehabilitation Centre.

"The UAE has made significant strides in the field of rehabilitation over the last few years," said Dr Hamed Al Ghafiri, the director general of the NRC. Mona Al-Marzooqi / The National

ABU DHABI // Painkiller abuse is to blame for nearly three quarters of all drug overdose cases, rehabilitation experts say.

Abuse of opioids – painkillers prescribed to patients suffering from any form of chronic physical pain – is predominantly found in the younger generation, according to statistics by the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC).

All drug overdose cases in the last four years involved patients under the age of 45. Of these 42 per cent were under the age of 30. Of the total number of drug overdose cases, 76 per cent were related to addiction to opioids.

Dr Samer Makhoul, an addiction expert in Abu Dhabi, said abuse of opioids is a worldwide issue.

“This is an international problem. The property of opiates is what makes the drug very dangerous.”

Dr Makhoul, head of the psychiatry department at Al Noor Hospital, believed most overdoses of opiates – which include medications such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, codeine, and related drugs – are accidental.

This happens when a person uses the drug recreationally and takes too high a dose or when people build up a tolerance to the opiates over time and overdose accidentally, Dr Makhoul said.

“People want to have the same effect so they have to increase the dose so sometimes they don’t calculate it right...or sometimes they want to reach a high and their calculation of this can be dangerous.

“So most of the time are accidental although there are the times when people try and kill themselves.”

Dr Makhoul said more education and awareness is needed to stem the problem. “This is a problem that has an impact on crime, that has an impact on road traffic accidents..so that is why dealing with opiate addiction is a priority with every government in the world.”

The NRC presented the findings at the annual UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna.

“The UAE has made significant strides in the field of rehabilitation over the last few years; our participation in the CND meeting cements the role the UAE is playing internationally,” said Dr Hamed Al Ghafiri, the director general of the NRC.

“We had the chance to sit with our counterparts and benefit from knowledge sharing, data collection, response and monitoring.”

Recent figures released by the FDA show that more than 16,000 lives are lost each year due to opioid-related overdoses in the Unites States alone. Drug overdose deaths, driven largely by prescription drug overdose deaths, are now the leading cause of injury death in the US – surpassing motor vehicle crashes.

The NRC dealt with 33 drug overdose patients in the last four years. The most common addictions it deals with are alcohol, prescription opiates such as tramadol and illegal opiates such as heroin and amphetamine-type stimulants.

Dr Ali Al Marzooqi, the centre’s director of public health and research, recently described the increase in the number of young people using drugs as “alarming”, with those as young as 12 being among the some 1,000 patients admitted to NRC outpatients clinics.

People seeking help for substance abuse should call the NRC’s hotline on 800 2252.

jbell@thenational.ae