Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi has launched an integrated strategy to combat drug addiction, which will tackle substance abuse and help reintegrate recovered addicts into society.
The comprehensive strategy will include specific initiatives by government regulators and is being overseen by the Department of Community Development (DCD).
“The DCD has a responsibility to build an integrated system through cooperation with relevant authorities, which will help in early identification of cases and adoption of approaches and mechanisms to ensure social reintegration of recovering substance users. We expect that after enforcing the strategy, it will decrease drug use rate and related deaths and increase the number of people getting treatment,” said Dr Mugheer Al Khaili, DCD chairman, at the official launch.
Studies by the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC), a public rehab centre in Abu Dhabi, had reported that the UAE loses around Dh5.5 billion a year to drug addiction. As in the rest of the world, the age of first drug use is as early as 12 to 14 years, yet only 40 per cent of teens and young adults are fully aware of the full range of risks that stem from substance abuse.
Awareness and reintegration
The newly-launched strategy will therefore place particular focus on education, with dedicated campaigns aiming to increase awareness among school-going children. Another focal point will be the support provided to families to seek treatment for addicted members, and limits on drug access. Recovered addicts will also receive assistance to find housing and employment in a manner that helps them successfully reintegrate with society.
Dr Layla Al Hayas, the DCD’s executive director for monitoring and social innovation, said that the system will ensure the confidentiality of patients and their families. “The aim is to enable every individual to be socially productive, [including recovered addicts],” Dr Al Hayas said.
The DCD will implement the strategy in two phases and specialised taskforces have been created to handle each of the five goals of the strategy, including supply reduction, prevention, identification and treatment, reintegration and enabling.
In the first phase, a range of awareness campaigns will highlight the role of families in preventing drug abuse and tackling social stigmas. These campaigns will be integrated into Abu Dhabi’s school curricula, while primary health-care facilities will be equipped to detect and flag substance abuse.
The DCD will then work to develop plans on limiting drug access in the second phase, and also to strengthen mechanisms to reintegrate recovered individuals.
In January 2022, the UAE introduced tougher penalties for drug traffickers that include lengthy jail terms and hefty fines, while also decriminalising addiction. Since then, law enforcement agencies, including the Abu Dhabi Police, have also been running a concerted awareness campaign to emphasise the role of families, and the community, in supporting addicts.
Last month, Abu Dhabi also hosted the International Society of Substance Use Professionals 2022, where more than a 1,000 international experts and professionals met to discuss substance abuse disorders.