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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Additional beds for addiction unit

Changes made last year to the way the law treats people with drug issues, and the addition of extra beds at the Al Mafraq site, means expats are able to receive help at the National Rehabilitation Centre.

ABU DHABI // Expatriates are now being treated for drug problems alongside Emirati addicts at the National Rehabilitation Centre.

Changes made last year to the way the law treats people with drug issues, and the addition of extra beds at the Al Mafraq site, means expats are able to receive help at the NRC.

However, unlike Emiratis, expats have to pay for their treatment with a cash down-payment or credit card upfront.

“The law does not differentiate between individuals with diseases,” said Dr Ali Al Marzooqi, public health and research director at the NRC which now has 200 beds, up from 169. “Now we have an extended capacity.”

In October last year, President Sheikh Khalifa updated the 1995 law to downgrade the use of illegal drugs to a misdemeanour. It also gave options other than jail for first-time offenders.

The minimum four-year jail sentence was reduced to two, with the Attorney General able to send an offender for treatment without the case going to court, after advice from police and prosecutions.

First-time offenders can be sent to rehab, fined a maximum of Dh10,000, or given community service.

As a result, the NRC has seen a rise in the number of people being referred from public prosecution, said Dr Al Marzooqi.

Previously, the courts had difficulty referring people for treatment because of the lack of capacity.

If a drug user is handed by their family to a rehab centre, police or prosecutors, they face no penalty and will remain in treatment until the centre decides they can be released.

This was previously only the case if the user voluntarily took treatment.

Time spent in rehab has been reduced from three to two years minimum.

Once a course of treatment is completed, the next step is to reintegrate former addicts back to the community, said Dr Al Marzooqi.

“These are the issues that we want to focus on in the next two years, try to find suitable jobs for them,” he said.

“The other issue is we want to get more involvement from the community, we don’t want to be an isolated body within the neighbourhood.”

The majority of patients being treated by NRC staff are Emirati. Only two expat addicts have been cared for so far.

The NRC began accepting GCC citizens referred by their home countries three years ago.

John Marsden, a professor of addiction at King’s College London and a visiting consultant at the NRC, said the centre’s expansion had been carefully planned in phases.

“What I’ve seen since 2001 is an astonishing expansion that has moved from a downtown, very small urban location to the resort it is today,” he said.

“Now we have the opportunity to treat people from all around the world and from regional countries.”

Prof Marsden said the NRC was unique in the region in how it treats addicts.

“There is nothing like it in terms of the principles of prevention and state involvement in the treatment and rehab process,” he said.

“Those cornerstones are very rarely expressed elsewhere, that reflects the investment from the government.

“If I were the king of the universe, I would bring this centre to England tomorrow.”

The NRC can be contacted on 8002252 with staff on hand to speak to addicts and their families.

hdajani@thenational.ae

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