Soft scenic paintings, bright-coloured walls and a state-of-the-art gym — complete with a coffee machine — aim to provide a friendly indoor environment. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: Dubai’s first drug rehab clinic is set to open in days, and will offer treatment to both citizens and residents.

Officials at the government-owned Erada Rehab and Treatment Centre (Erada loosely translates into ‘willpower’ in Arabic) are quietly aware of the role they will soon play.

“We are coming here to say that we would like to treat you, whoever you are,” said Dr Mohammad Fayek, Erada’s chief executive. “If you have a problem with drugs, we are here for you.”

The clinic’s mandate from authorities means that they can work with private individuals, state-owned hospitals and other government bodies to rehabilitate drug users.

And as the use of illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine and meth can carry prison terms in the UAE, the clinic’s chief is keen to state that nobody will be turned away.

“Those who come forward who express an addiction,” added Fayek, who was born in the UAE and trained in the United States in psychiatry, “are going to be provided with a safe haven for treatment.”

The clinic’s location, tucked away on the city’s outskirts in Al Khawaneej, in a secluded area dotted with horse riding clubs and houses, seems to make clear his promise of privacy.

The small, walled-off complex is made up of a cluster of six villas.

Nestled in between lies an astroturfed-covered courtyard with a tent shelter. Here, live-in patients will be able to rest and relax.

Safe sanctuary

To go inside the clinic, patients and visitors will be greeted by cheery security guards and a metal detector gate turned up to the max. Once through, soft scenic paintings, bright-coloured walls and a state-of-art gym — complete with a coffee machine — aim to provide a friendly indoor environment.

Right now, the clinic’s staff of over 50, which includes at least ten rehab specialists and four US and UK-trained doctors, is rushing to put together the final programmes and protocols for patients.

Treatment courses offered will include the classic 12-step therapy programme — similar to ones used for decades by Alcoholics Anonymous.

In addition, more contemporary treatments that measure and test brain signals, such as neuro-modulation treatment and trans-magnetic stimulation will also be used.

Before the end of January, Erada will be ready to accommodate 50 live-in patients.

For many more who have less severe addictions, the clinic will offer outpatient programmes that do not require the patient to stay on site.

Right now, the clinic expects a majority of cases will involve people who are addicted to alcohol or prescription drugs.

“The most common addiction in our region is prescription medications, which is also an epidemic back in the Western world,” said Fayek.

These under-the-counter drugs include pain killers, tramadol, and relaxants, he added.

To treat drug users, the clinic is putting together complex multi-step programmes.

The first of these is referred to as biological — or medical — treatment, which can include a cautious, limited application of replacement drugs to soften painful withdrawal symptoms.

This treatment will be given only to those who will be staying at the clinic.

“We’re trying as much as we can to do a painless detox and here we can use very mild doses of replacement drugs,” said the clinic chief.

The next steps can include a 40-session psychological programme, which will take place over 10 weeks. Then, there’s the social aspect, which can involve the patient meeting with their family and a counsellor.

This step is key because of the importance of “looking into the patient from 360 degrees,” said Fayek.

“You can’t look at him as just one person. Because he is part of a family, and the family is part of the community.”

Parts of the treatment plans include a lighter, fun side. Planned supervised community trips outside the confines of the clinic will see live-in patients play sports, and explore parks, zoos and museums.

Spiritual side

A final, important step is spiritual counselling. Sessions with the spiritual counsellor will vary depending on the faith of the patient.

Dr Hamdy Moselhy

“An atheist can be spiritual,” said Dr Hamdy Moselhy, the clinic’s medical director and UK-trained psychiatry professor.

“Whatever the person is believing, in the end, we don’t interfere with that. It’s up to them.”

After the rehab is completed, success rates vary wildly. Internationally, former alcohol addicts have 60 to 80 per cent chance of total recovery.

But for former users of heroin and opioids — some of the most addictive drugs — kicking the habit is far harder. And long-term studies paint a grim picture.

“40 per cent [of former users] will stop completely, 40 per cent will wax and wane, and unfortunately there is a 20 per cent death rate of overdose,” said Moselhy.

Fortunately, the clinic is not alone. Officials are counting on the UAE’s other clinic, the National Rehabilitation Centre in Abu Dhabi, and Al Amal Hospital and Rashid Hospital in Dubai to complement its role.

Treatment aside, one of Erada’s main goals is to spread awareness — “a very big and important part of the work of our centre,” said Fayed.

“We’ve faced so many cases where patients would say: ‘nobody told us, nobody warned us. Nobody told us what to expect, when we do that,’” he added.

While treatment at the clinic is for everyone, citizens and residents alike, officials are still working out a pricing structure. In Dubai, psychiatric care is commonly not covered by health insurance.

“We have a team of case workers and management that is going to be working with the patients to make the treatment affordable,” said Fayek.

“The vision is to have an affordable treatment for all the citizens and residents of the emirate,” he said declining to go into further detail.

A further battle to be fought is the stigma of drug addiction, which is felt in the conservative UAE as much as anywhere else, according to Fayek.

“[The stigma] is something that comes with the disease,” said the clinic chief. “Till recently, diabetes was stigmatised. I’m not talking 20 years ago. I’m talking a few years ago.”

“Now, it is not until recently that people realised that it is a disease, and that it has a treatment.”

To further help combat the stigma of drug addiction, the clinic uses different words to refer to users.

Even the term ‘addict’ is not used, “because it’s bit offensive and labelling”, said Moselhy, the medical director.

Even though the rehab clinic has not yet opened its doors, Fayek hints that plenty of people who struggle with drug use will be paying a visit.

“Let’s say that there is a growing list of patients that we’re going to be seeing.”


Assessing addiction:

How do I know if I have a drinking problem?

Luckily, there are medical criteria for diagnosing alcohol use disorder, commonly referred to as alcoholism. Experts on addiction commonly use the British system, which measures alcohol in units.

According to the Royal College of Physicians in the UK, both men and women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol in a week.

That is an average of about six pints of normal-strength beer or 10 small glasses of fairly weak wine.

A beer is roughly 1.5 to 3 units, depending on its strength and the size of the bottle or glass.

A single shot of whisky is around 1 unit, and a normal-sized glass of wine is around 2.3 units.

And there are some more rules on the limits: Drinking should be spread out through the week, including two dry days.

“If it’s increasing more than that, then other criteria will come in,” said Dr Hamdy Moselhy, the Erada clinic’s medical director.

Red flags include “a compulsion to drink, a failure to control it, and the primacy of drink over another activity.”

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to grisly physical complications, including liver failure, oesophagitis — symptoms include heartburn and nausea — blackouts, and the vomiting of blood.


Drug laws in UAE:

In Dubai alone, courts see thousands of drug-related cases each year.

But in recent years, UAE federal laws for illegal drug use have softened. In October, drug use as a crime was downgraded from a felony to a misdemeanour.

Also, options other than prison sentences were introduced for first-time offenders.

Under the changes to the anti-narcotics law, which dated from 1995, options for first-time offenders include undergoing rehab, paying fines or doing community service.

Since October, if a drug user is handed over by their family to a rehabilitation centre, police or prosecutors, they will not face penalties.

Even before last year’s changes to the law, if a drug user were to turn himself or herself in voluntarily, he or she would not face punishment.


Erada clinic has a 24/7 hotline: 04 2399992