At the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) in Abu Dhabi, drug addicts come to seek solace and healing for their addictions, be it to alcohol, opiates or cannabis. In the cozy and welcoming building he has headed for almost five years, NRC director and consultant psychiatrist Dr Ahmad Yousuf Ali is hopeful and positive, with a hint of realism in his tone that is crucial to have in his field.
In 2002, the NRC was established by the office of the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan under the supervision of Shaikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
The first phase of the project has been functional since then, with close to 150 patients having been treated. The NRC collaborates closely with the National Addiction Centre in London (NACL) and offers treatment for various addictions.
"At the moment, we only accept pure addiction cases, and dual diagnosis of both mental illness and addiction," explains Dr Ali.
"We deal with poly-substance misuse, opiates, cannabis and alcohol. We are hoping that in the second phase of our project, we will have divisions and specialties."
The NRC currently caters exclusively to UAE national males with a 30 in-patient capacity in two locations, but the second phase of the project includes a 200-bed centre that will include a section for women.
"We hope to start building the second phase in the summer, but right now, the criteria for admission is that patients should be UAE nationals, between the ages of 18 and 65, and the proof of addiction is assessed by a multi-disciplinary team," says Dr Ali.
"The bulk of our patients come in voluntarily, but we also get coercive referrals, usually from authorities such as the public prosecution and the police. It is a 90-day programme and we try to finish our work within the time limits, but an addiction is a chronic disease; you cannot rid patients of their problems quickly.
"Every three months, we meet and see how far the patients have come and work with them to renew their treatment or transfer them to being out-patients, depending on the condition."
Dr Ali explains that while initial success rates are close to 100%, looking at patients in the long-term results in a decrease in success rates.
"Addiction is a disease like diabetes, you cannot expect somebody to be cured," he said.
"Generally, our patients are out of the centre within six months, but a lot of people decide to stay when they realise the damage they have done to themselves and how severe their illness is. They do not trust themselves when they go out and they are afraid to relapse, so they accept that it is wiser to be protected in a structured environment."
When a patient arrives to the NRC, he is assessed by a team consisting of a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a social worker and a nurse. A course of treatment is determined and a detoxification period of roughly two weeks takes place.
"After that, we have a state-of-the-art rehabilitation programme," says Dr Ali.
"They have a full programme from when they wake up until they sleep. They exercise at the gym, have breakfast, attend therapy alone or in groups, go to art and computer classes, learn languages, go to the centre's library. We are very disciplined with patient's families; they can visit their loved ones on weekends, and phone calls are allowed for a couple of hours in the evenings."
The NRC hosts its own drug testing laboratory, which ensures complete confidentiality.
"We test patients consistently," adds Dr Ali. "We have two fixed tests a week, and we have random tests that take place at any time, especially when patients come back from therapeutic leave or have visitors over at the centre. So we test them almost daily, and I am amazed at the acceptance on their behalf."
Dr Ali explains that while drug addiction is a problem in the UAE, it is not insurmountable. "Substance misuse is present in every society, and has been since the beginning of mankind."
Abu Dhabi will initiate the first and biggest campaign addressing drug addiction. It will host the first UAE International Conference on Addiction.
With the motto "Yes... to Life", the UICA is organised by the National Rehabilitation Centre in Abu Dhabi, in collaboration with the National Addiction Centre in London.
The conference will be held from March 10-12, 2007, and will address a range of topics.