Prescription medicines and stimulants are the most abused drugs in the UAE, officials have said.

Marking International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on June 26, health officials said that alcohol and opioids were also among the top addictions.

Dr Sawsan Hassan, specialist psychiatrist, addiction treatment services at Al Amal Hospital, said that at most times, the 18 in-patient beds in the hospital were fully occupied.

The hospital’s addiction department treats adult males and females and adolescents aged 12-18 years and is the only government hospital to do so.

“We see about 25-30 male adults on an average in outpatients daily and females are fewer between 8 and 10,” said Dr Sawsan.

Admission to the hospital is voluntary unless mandated by the police. However, the in-patient stay is minimum one month.

“Many addicts do not know where to go,” said Dr Sawsan. “They are afraid of the law and we want to tell them that treatment is different from the police,” she said.

Treatment is free of cost for Emiratis and expatriates who hold a health card will be charged half. “The treatment isn’t covered by insurance but may be in future, it will be,” she added.

Abdulla Mohammed Al Ansari, director of community research, awareness and public Relations at the semi-government Erada Centre for Treatment and Rehab in Dubai, said that addiction should be treated as a disease.

The centre has 42 in-patient beds with most of them fully occupied while treatment lasts a minimum of three months.

“Prescription medicine tops the list of drugs for addictions in the UAE, followed by stimulants, mostly among those in the age group of 24-29 years,” said Abdulla.

Stay at the centre depends on the patient’s assessment and based on that it is decided when the patient needs to be discharged.

The cost of treatment, however, remains a concern. Treatment per month costs up to Dh120,000 for in-patient. “We encourage sponsorship while many cases are handled by charities as well,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health and Prevention’s youth council called on young people and students to engage in sports activities and join volunteering teams. It also highlighted the necessity of rehabilitating and reintegrating former addicts into the society, away from being shamed.

The ministry, in cooperation with the partners of the Higher Committee for Monitor and Review of Schedules of Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances, is taking steps to boost control over narcotic and psychotropic drugs to protect society from health and economic burdens.

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