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Tue 19 Nov 2019 11:39 AM

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AB Investigates: The Middle East's drug problem

The unique geographic location very close to the Golden Crescent or Drug Belt, an extreme economic profile and diverse demography of the Gulf region, provides an interesting background for examining whether the global challenge of substance abuse has encroached on this region.

Did I say abuse? The terms substance abuse and drug abuse have been recently replaced by the term substance use disorder, which refers to the use of one or more substances that lead to a clinically significant impairment. And this new nomenclature is extremely significant, especially in this region

In the GCC the pendulum appears to swing between the moral model and the disease model.

Basically those who have the disorder may be liable for persecution or could be labelled sick. In Oman, for example, the law explicitly states that drug addicts should seek medical help but those who are peddling are liable for arrests and incarceration.

Another problem with this is the stigma stemming from the region’s culture and traditions. There is an underreporting of substance misuse here, which may be related to the stigma of addiction.

It is also worth noting that certain substances are more available in some regions.

Due to geography and ethnicity, Khat is widely used in Jazan regions of Saudi and Yemen.

Tramadol is hugely popular in Egypt, because it produces effects similar to heroin, and has a reputation for increasing men’s sexual stamina.

Children and low-wage workers in the UAE are smoking dried, crushed “samsum” ants to get high, according to health officials and local media reports.

Clearly accessibility and availability is a huge problem. The results from this year’s Arab Youth Survey found that 57 percent believe drugs are easy to obtain in their home country, with the data ranging from 70 percent in the Levant countries to 32 percent in the GCC.

Strangely, according to the study done by Samir Al-Adawi from SQU, the largest increases in drug addiction are currently seen in school and college girls, In 2008, 1,826 people were officially registered with the government as drug addicts. In 2009, 19 people died due to drug abuse and the number of crimes related to drug use is escalating with a rapid increase in the last few years from 78 to 688.

Peer pressure was the main reason giving for this rise by 62 percent of respondents, followed by stress relief (45 percent), boredom (43 percent) and lack of entertainment options (41 percent).

Another strange finding – Studies from this region indicated that boredom was an important precursor for people to get into drugs. This backs some unofficial reports that suggest that GCC nationals are the third most inactive people in the world.

However, it is not all doom and gloom for the ones who have been caught in the claws of addiction. An increasing number of drug addicts are learning to live a clean life through the addiction support group Narcotics Anonymous. The non-profit fellowship helps members achieve and maintain sobriety through guidance, sponsorship and encouragement.

This programme is intended as assistance for every addict seeking recovery.

As addicts, we know the pain of addiction, but we also know the joy of recovery we have found in the Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous.

There are also specialised centres for alcohol and drug abuse cropping up in the GCC, but are they enough?

Treatment of substance use disorder consists of a range of clinical interventions that can include group and individual therapy, medication for detoxification and stabilisation. The ultimate goal of the treatment is to to assist individuals in achieving stable, long term recovery.

And exactly this happens in an addiction treatment centre based in Thailand, exclusively dedicated to clients from the MENA region.

The Cabin Group has operated in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, since 2010, treating clients from the Middle East and North Africa. Up to six people at a time can receive treatment through the eight-week programme at a cost of $30,000 per person.

They recently launched the Salam program – a privately funded tailored speciality programme for those aged 18 and over, which integrates the traditions and values of the MENA region – with the potential to treat up to 15 clients.

(Source: YouTube channel)