Abu Dhabi: Only about 10 per cent of all drugs smuggled into any country are seized by law enforcement officials, a senior drug rehabilitation official said in the capital on Sunday.

And even in the absence of smuggled drugs, young people in the UAE tend to mix prescription medicines with energy drinks in an attempt to get the same high, Dr Ali Al Marzouqi, director of public health and research at the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC), told Gulf News.

“We know that drug abuse has massive negative impacts on users, their families and the economy. For example, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that the cost of this abuse equals up to four per cent of a country’s gross domestic product in terms of lives lost, treatment costs, rehabilitation and lost productivity,” Dr Al Marzouqi said.

“While every nation faces challenges with drug abuse, we would like to minimise these risks in the UAE as much as possible,” he added.

Internationally, the age of drug abuse appears to be declining and, in the UAE, the age of first use has fallen to about 12 years. Addicts typically abuse a mix of substances, including drugs such as heroin and hashish, as well as prescription medicines like tramadol and amphetamine.

The NRC is the UAE’s main rehabilitation facility, and it can accommodate up to 70 in-patients at a time. At present, the centre admits only Emirati patients.

Dr Al Marzouqi says the problem of drug use starts because many dealers offer the first few doses of a substance free of charge or at minimum cost.

“When the individual is addicted, they hike the asking price and, by this point, users are willing to pay anything to get their ‘fix’,” he explained.

To raise awareness about the risks of this negative habit, the NRC is launching a campaign tomorrow which will coincide with the UNODC’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on June 26.

“Through stands at three different malls, we want to inform parents about the warning signs of drug abuse among youth. These include sudden and unexplained changes in mood behaviour and sleeping patterns, as well as a possible new group of friends,” Dr Al Marzouqi said.

The stands, which will be set up in Abu Dhabi’s Marina Mall and Dalma Mall, as well as in Al Bawadi Mall in Al Ain, will also give visitors a taste of the blurred vision and headaches caused by drug abuse. This will be enabled by a set of special goggles that create a similar effect on the wearer.

“International benchmarks indicate that every $1 (Dh3.67) spent on rehabilitation saves about $25 (Dh91.8) in the future and we want to drive home this message,” the official said.