Change in UAE drug law prompts influx of patients at Abu Dhabi rehab centre
Changes to the country’s laws, allowing first-time drug users to choose rehabilitation over imprisonment, led to an influx of patients at Abu Dhabi’s National Rehabilitation Centre.
In 2016, amendments to the anti-narcotics law downgraded the use of illegal drugs from a felony to a misdemeanour and allowed a drug user, handed by their family to police or a rehab centre, to be admitted for treatment rather than face jail and fines.
The decision led to a spike in referrals of drug users to the NRC. To cope with the increase, the centre expanded its services and negotiated terms of treatment with judicial departments.
“We had a huge influx of patients referred from judicial systems. We did not expect that many to be referred to us immediately,” said Dr Ali Al Marzooqi, public health and research director at the NRC.
The centre started a waiting list before adding more beds and increasing outpatient clinics. Previously, the terms of admission required patients to stay between two and four months. The centre lobbied to change those terms to ensure enough space was available for new patients.
“Now we send a letter to the referral agency to discharge a patient whenever we see fit,” Dr Al Marzooqi said.
Dr Hamad Al Ghaferi, the NRC’s director general, said the community increasingly turned to the centre for help because it accepted men, women and children.
“After the new law came out, a new type of trust in us developed in the community and the number of people who came to us increased significantly, whether they came by choice or were forced to come,” he said.
“We expanded our outpatient clinics. Every month we receive almost 600 outpatients. The same services that are available for inpatients are also available for outpatients.”
The centre has treated about 3,500 addicts since it opened in 2002. While the NRC can accommodate up to 200 inpatients at a time, they currently have only 78 beds available.
“The monthly turnover is increasing and the age groups are becoming more diverse,” Dr Al Ghaferi said.
He said they were also coming across new substances being abused.
The NRC employs 150 members of staff, of whom more than 70 are medical professionals.