x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Rehabilitation centre for Dubai's drug addicts on the way

Police anti-narcotics department stresses the need for community to tackle addictions and root out the criminals who supply drugs

DUBAI // A new drug rehabilitation centre planned for Dubai will provide much-needed services for a significant number of addicts, the head of the emirate's anti-narcotics department says.

It is hoped that discussions between Dubai Police and the Community Development Authority will lead to a decision that addresses the growing need for another specialist facility. There are currently just two in the country.

"Both parties are convinced of the need for the centre, and we are in discussion on ways to implement this project," said Maj Gen Abdul al Jalil al Mahdi, the head of the anti-narcotics department at Dubai Police. No timeframe to begin the project has been set.

In the first 11 months of this year, 319 people were convicted for drug use in the emirate, a decrease compared with the same period last year, when 383 people were convicted. Police said they were taking the problem of drug addiction very seriously.

The penalty for consumption of narcotics is a four-year jail term followed by deportation for expatriates, as per the UAE penal code.

"Drug addiction is a problem which need to be addressed," said Maj Gen al Mahdi. "I think that the family need to be in the forefront of this battle. They need to be close to their children and keep track of them while we [the police] need to continue to crack down on drug selling."

Currently, there is no drug rehabilitation centre in Dubai: instead, drug addicts are treated in Al Amal Psychiatric Hospital for narcotic-related withdrawal symptoms, but they are not provided with any rehabilitation beyond that.

Dubai Police, however, operate a follow-up programme by staying in touch with former drug addicts who have served jail terms to ensure they do not return to the habit. They also provide former addicts with psychological support, as well as aid to reintegrate in society, with a particular focus on securing employment for former addicts. The programme also carries out random tests on the former addicts to make sure they remain drug-free.

Amal al Fuqaei, a rehabilitation specialist at the anti-narcotics department who works closely with former addicts, said society should start seeing drug addiction as an illness that can be treated.

"A drug addict is an ill person that needs care and help, and this is how they should be treated," she said.

According to Maj Gen al Mahdi, youngsters between the age of 16 and 25 were the most likely age group to fall victim to drugs.

Drug dealers often attempt to target this group by plying their trade near schools and coffee shops. Their activity increased in areas with a high concentration of Emiratis, previous investigations have shown.

"Drug traffickers want every single one of us to be their customer so they can maximise their profits," Maj Gen al Mahdi said. "And they penetrate the youth by initially providing them with free samples."

Once people succumbed to drugs, the dealers later exploited them, he said, either by selling them drugs if the person had money, or by forcing them to distribute the drugs and get others involved if they could not afford a habit of their own.

Although drug use is illegal in the UAE, people who voluntarily surrender themselves to police for the first time will not be referred to court, but instead offered help.

"We want to help people overcome their addiction problem and therefore we carry out awareness campaigns to give them ideas on how to get out of this vicious cycle," said Dr Juma al Shamsi, the head of the awareness and prevention section at the anti-narcotics department.

His section is currently carrying out an awareness campaign called "A new person" to encourage drug addicts to seek help.

The campaign started at the beginning of the academic year in September and is expected to finish next summer.