x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Prescription drug abuse deaths spur police warning

Ten people died from overdoses of 'death pills' such as prescription painkillers in Dubai last year, says anti-narcotics task force chief.

DUBAI // Police issued a renewed warning yesterday about the dangers of prescription drug abuse as it was revealed that 10 people died from overdoses in Dubai last year.

Maj Gen Abdul al Jaleel al Mahdi, head of the Dubai Police anti-narcotic department, singled out a prescription painkiller said to have the same effect as heroin.

The officer declined to name specific drugs for fear of unintentionally promoting them, but he said: "These are death pills, and we need to work together to combat this trend."

The new warning comes amid fears that abuse of prescription medication is overtaking addiction to illegal drugs as a social ill - not only in the UAE, but worldwide.

"Only cannabis is more widely abused than prescription drugs, including analgesics, stimulants, sedatives and tranquillisers," the UN said in a report last year.

A regional forum on drug policy in Abu Dhabi this week heard that the main problem with drug control was "prescription shopping" by patients who obtained medication from more than one pharmacy.

"We need to link clinics and pharmacies and make sure records are electronically entered so patients can't end up with more than one prescription," said Dr Aamir Hassan, supervisor of controlled medicines at the Ministry of Health.

Gen al Mahdi issued his warning yesterday at a conference to announce the arrest of two suspected drug dealers and the confiscation of 60,000 Tramadol and Kemdrin pills with a street value of around Dh600,000. The two men, from an Asian country, were charged with possession, marketing and illegal use of drugs.

Gen al Mahdi said: "The use of drug pills is very dangerous and the problem is expanding quickly. More awareness is needed to educate parents and young people about this problem."

Dubai Police have intensified their efforts to combat prescription drug abuse. Last year the force seized more than 125,000 pills, and more than 4.6 million pills were seized in 2009.

Officers say prescription medication constitutes a large proportion of illegal drug use. The police have also asked for certain medications to be added to the list of controlled substances. They do so when it becomes clear that a prescription drug has become the target of drug abusers. Some additions are still under review and have yet to be approved.

Dr Amin al Amiri, an undersecretary at the Ministry of Health, said all controlled and narcotic drugs were subject to strict regulations. In 2010 the ministry, which has full jurisdiction over the northern emirates, had only "one or two" cases of medical professionals mishandling the drugs, he said.

"The problems arise from medicines that people bring in from other countries," Dr al Amiri said. "Then we have no control."

An updated list of controlled and narcotic medicines would be released in coming weeks, he said.