More and more drug addicts in the United Arab Emirates have sought treatment since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, doctors say.
Doctors at the UAE’s National Rehabilitation Center said demand has increased every day over the past year, the first time such an increase has been recorded.
Increased awareness campaigns and an increase in online services are believed to be behind this increase.
However, doctors have also said that the coronavirus pandemic has led some drug addicts to seek out new substances to abuse.
We don’t know if it’s because of the pandemic or because people are now more aware of the importance of therapy.
Dr Samya Al Mamari
“Due to containment, border closures and difficulties encountered on trafficking routes, there has been a shift towards new psychoactive substances during the pandemic,” said Dr Samya Al Mamari, director of medical services by interim rehabilitation center.
“But for the first time since the creation of the NRC, the demand for treatment has increased and patients have requested treatment themselves.
“We don’t know if it’s because of the pandemic or because people are now more aware of the importance of therapy. In 2020, we focused a lot on awareness campaigns.
The center was established in 2002 and is based in Abu Dhabi to serve Emiratis and residents of all United Arab Emirates.
It is a collaborating center of excellence of the World Health Organization in the Middle East and gives hope to many drug addicts.
It would not reveal what new types of addicts were seeking treatment for, but psychoactive substances that could be abused include cocaine and prescription drugs such as Xanax.
The center says it has recorded in recent years a “marked change in the patterns of abuse among young people and adolescents” and “their tendency to use different types of drugs and new psychotropic substances”. These include synthetic hemp and ketamine.
Over the past year, doctors not affiliated with the center have issued warnings against the unprescribed use of anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax.
This follows a major raid in Sharjah where police arrested a gang of nine men and seized illegal Xanax tablets worth around Dh15 million ($ 4.1 million).
Operations in Abu Dhabi include a seizure of 573,000 Captagon tablets last September and 45 kilograms of heroin and crystal meth last November.
Dubai Police also made several huge discoveries, including foiling an attempt to smuggle 5.7 tonnes of Captagon into the country.
A change of approach
The way drug addicts are treated in the UAE has changed over the years.
In 2016, changes to the law significantly reduced penalties for users, but not smugglers and suppliers.
Among the new measures was a reduction in the minimum prison sentence for drug addicts.
Education, awareness and help for drug addicts to reintegrate into the community are essential tools used by the National Rehabilitation Center to fight drug addiction.
Although the center did not disclose how many patients were receiving treatment, it said the numbers were increasing.
The pandemic forced doctors to use online treatment and keep their clinics online, especially during the summer of last year when travel between emirates was restricted.
“The demand for treatment was increasing day by day in 2020 and patients became more determined to attend sessions regularly because they found it more convenient,” Dr Al Mamari said of remote treatment.
“Are these online treatment sessions effective? Many studies are being carried out on this subject, ”she said.
“I think by the second half of 2021 we will start to see whether the virtual treatment has been effective or not.
“But the point is, we have tried to maintain contact with patients in a way that is accessible and convenient for them.”
It is also envisioned that, if proven effective, online treatment could be an important part of the centre’s work after the pandemic.
But face-to-face contact will remain essential, and the center is also placing more emphasis on prevention.
This week, the center hosted a regional online conference to train specialists and policymakers from the UAE and the wider GCC, as well as Egypt and Sudan on prevention and early intervention strategies.
“Both are seen as an effective way to reduce the consequences of drug addiction in society, especially at a time when many countries around the world are seeing rising rates of drug and alcohol addiction,” Dr Al said. Mamari.
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