Sunday, June 1, 2008

Treatment backlog for addicts rises

ABU DHABI // A multimillion-dirham drugs awareness campaign has encouraged people to seek help for their addictions.

In a two-week period after the campaign’s launch in April, eight patients were admitted to the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC), in contrast to a previous average of one case a month. There are 26 people on the waiting list and a further 120 people have indicated they would like to seek treatment.

The growing number of Emiratis addicted to drugs and alcohol prompted the NRC, a government agency, to launch the “Yes to Life” campaign, which aims to make people aware that drug addiction “is like any other disease and that there is treatment”.

“We have had a very large response to the campaign,” said Noura al Hosani, the campaign manager. “We really didn’t expect that much because this is a traditional society and it is difficult to talk publicly about drug addiction.”

To cope with the growing demand for treatment, 10 beds will be added by the end of the year.

“The last thing we want to do is launch such a campaign and then not have the capacity to help the people who are coming forward,” Ms Hosani said.

NRC social workers are fielding an average of 30 calls per day to the confidential helpline, and the centre also provides outpatient services and consultations to people on the waiting list until a space is available.

“We have to maintain this relationship with them,” Ms Hosani said. “We need to keep assuring these patients they will get the treatment and encourage them further.”

Addiction to alcohol has been the most common reason for admission, followed by cannabis, according to the NRC, while some have sought treatment for addiction to drugs such as heroin.

“The response to the campaign has been very positive,” she said. “People seem really appreciative that we are providing this treatment.”

However, not everyone has been willing to be brought into the public discussion on addiction.

Ms Hosani said some had shied away from accepting brochures or visiting exhibitions that had been set up in shopping malls.

“Some people don’t want to take part because of the association with the word ‘addiction’,” she said. “All we want to do is provide the right information, but maybe they are afraid someone might see them at the exhibition.”

“Yes to Life” was launched in the capital on April 1 and in Al Ain on May 15. Centres were expected to be in place across the emirate by 2012, Ms Hosani said. “It is our plan to cover all of Abu Dhabi emirate before 2012.”

The Al Ain campaign included an exhibition, a question-and-answer session for adults, public outreach efforts and a musical for children.

Plans are under way to extend the campaign to Al Gharbia in August and the NRC will also take part in summer camps for children over the holiday period.

The NRC is collecting data to measure the level of drug-abuse awareness, the impact of the campaign and whether attitudes towards addiction have changed.