Anti-narcotics official calls for concerted efforts to combat menace
Abu Dhabi: Anti-drug officials say they are concerned over the rise of drug abuse by children as young as 11 or even less.
“The age at which young Emiratis misuse drugs has decreased from 17 to 11 years — an appalling predicament that requires a joint effort to fight the menace,” said Dr Hamad Abdullah Al Gafri, director-general of the National Rehabilitation Centre.
He was speaking to Gulf News on the sidelines of a regional conference on drug use organised by the NRC and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.
Dr Al Gafri said the low age at which children abuse drugs is troubling, but the NRC has launched campaigns to educate schoolchildren about the lethal hazards of drug addiction.
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The NRC receives those who seek treatment, but experts say addicts may stay away from treatment for up to eight years.
Dr Al Gafri admitted young addicts sought healing for their addiction after six months to three or four years of drug abuse.
Afghanistan is said to have the youngest drug-addicted population in the world.
The Government, Dr Al Gafri added, is employing all capabilities to curb this threat by providing assistance to those suffering from drug addiction while protecting their privacy.
“Our meeting with officials of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is meant to build capacity and work out a national strategy to fight drug abuse,” he said.
The meeting grouped representatives from the ministries of education, health, youth and sports, social affairs, interior, justice as well as judicial, economics and statistics departments.
Major Dr Juma’a Sultan Al Shamsi, head of Awareness and Precaution Department at the General Anti-Narcotics Department of Dubai Police, said 13 drug-related deaths were registered in Dubai last year.
“Many of the drugs taken are medical pills that are legally purchased but addictive such as Tramadol. Eleven out of the 13 deaths reported last year were caused by Tramadol,” he said.
Experts say the common trend in the region is for people to get addicted to sedative drugs like hashish, rather than cocaine or heroin.
There are no hard and fast statistics available about drug abuse in the UAE, but NRC experts say the economic cost of drug use and drug dependence can amount to two per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) — funds from Abu Dhabi alone can save 66 million children from poverty for two years.
Worldwide, UNODC estimates that in 2009 between 172 million and 250 million people used illicit drugs, of whom between 18 million and 38 million were drug-dependent.
Drug use is one of the top 20 risk factors to health globally, and among the top 10 in developed countries.
Drug users are at increased risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis that can easily spread to the general population and add to the health care burden.
- 13 deaths related to drug abuse in Dubai last year
- 2% of GDP is the economic cost of drug abuse
- 250m estimated size of drug users globally in 2009
Centre to heal addiction
At the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) in Abu Dhabi, drug addicts come to seek solace and healing for their addiction, be it to alcohol, opiates or cannabis, said Dr Hamad Abdullah Al Gafri, director-general of the National Rehabilitation Centre. In 2002, the NRC was established by the office of Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
The project has been functional since then, with 560 patients having been treated. The NRC collaborates closely with the National Addiction Centre in London (NACL) and offers treatment for various addictions.
Dealing with poly-substance misuse, opiates, cannabis and alcohol, the centre increased the bed capacity by 50 per cent in 2009. The out-patient clinic was launched in mid-2010, and has been receiving 450 visits from patients every month. Dr Al Gafri said a 200-bed centre, including a section for women, was planned to be completed by 2014. “The bulk of our patients come in voluntarily, but the NRC also gets coercive referrals, usually from authorities such as the public prosecution and the police.”
Source: Gulf News