There has been a steady increase in the number of juveniles between the ages of 15 to 18 that get affiliated with the abuse and trafficking of drugs. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Alarming figures published by the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) show that addiction has become a growing concern in the UAE. The numbers in 2010 show that 35 per cent of addicts are in the age group of 17 to 26.

To help curb the problem, the NRC — (UAE's sole rehabilitation centre), signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime (UNODC) on Sunday.

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A multi-phase programme will be adopted by both parties to help alleviate adverse social and negative consequences of alcohol and drug use, while developing policies and strategies to combat the demand of addictive substances.

"In efforts to service as many addicts as possible, the NRC opened its first outpatient addiction clinic last May, accommodating 50 new addicts a month. We decided to introduce the service for individuals who cannot stay in our hospital for six to twelve weeks," Dr Hamad Al Gaferi, Director General at the NRC, told Gulf News on the sidelines of the meeting.

According to Dr Hesham Al Arabi, Health Education Research Head at the NRC, 70 per cent of addicts at the NRC are poly-substance abusers — (depend on at least three substances that have been classified as addictive).

"There are no single patterns of substance abuse, however patients normally start off with alcohol and build on that. Cannabis and heroin addicts make up the rest of the 30 per cent," Dr Al Arabi said.

Since its initiation in May 2002, the NRC has offered a comprehensive drug response programme to 340 Emiratis who are addicted to either drugs, alcohol or both.

In response to a Gulf News question on whether the UNODC will help amend current prison regulations for addicts in the UAE, Hatem Ali, a UNODC representative for the GCC countries explained that addiction is a disease just like any other disease, and should be treated accordingly.

"The UN is always working with its national partner to introduce rules and regulations that best suit the host country, and this includes offering legal and judicial suggestions to concerned authorities," said Ali.

Statistics: Worrying numbers

- 35 per cent of addicts are between 17 and 26 years old

- 35 per cent of addicts are between 26 and 36 years old

- 23 per cent of addicts are between 37 and 46 years old

Substance abuse

- 4.9 per cent of global population have used drugs, 0.6 - 0.9 per cent with substances abuse dependence

- 2 per cent GDP (not considering alcohol), is the economic disease burden due to illicit drug addiction

- $220 billion, is the global economic disease burden on addiction

- 5.3 per cent regionally versus 12.4 per cent globally, are the total deaths attributable to alcohol use

- International studies have shown that the return on investment in the treatment of addiction is up to $23 for every dollar spent

Rehabilitation

- Three months needed before patient is admitted to an outpatient clinic

- NRC has 18 beds to treat Emirati males addicted to drugs and alcohol

Source: NRC