Drug addiction, often known as substance use disorder (SUD), is a complicated illness in which a person uses a drug uncontrolled despite detrimental consequences. Individuals with SUD focus on using certain substances such as alcohol, narcotics, or other illicit substances to the point their ability to function in day-to-day life becomes impaired. Drug addiction is hazardous due to its side effects on individuals and society (O’Brien). On an individual level, SUD can lead to health problems such as seizures, high blood pressure, mental health disorders, overdose, and eventually cause death. On a societal level, drug addiction has been known to cause family breakups, neglect social responsibilities such as child-rearing, increased crime rate, etc. Substance abuse is common in Arab nations, especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Residents of the UAE are not immune to the global epidemic of substance use disorder, despite significant religious disapproval, cultural rejection, and the illicit nature of the drug trade.
Ways in Which UAE Government is Combating Drug Addiction
The UAE government acknowledges drug abuse as a significant barrier in its path to progress. As a response, the government has adopted many laws and regulations, with the help of police and narcotics agencies, to limit drug use and smuggling in the United Arab Emirates. For example, substances such as poppy seeds (if detected in possession) might result in a person’s incarceration, hefty fines, and possibly deportation. Failure to follow the rules can have severe consequences for both individuals and their companions. For example, in 2008, a British man was arrested at the Dubai airport after discovering trace amounts of cannabis (Areas). Similarly, some painkillers, such as codeine, are strictly prohibited in the UAE, resulting in a four-year prison sentence.
Since the screening procedures in airports around the UAE are advanced, drug misuse rates have been reduced. However, as the number of drug-related cases has increased in recent years, so has the monitoring. One such surveillance is a drug test performed on the side of the road, one of the few exceptions made by the Abu Dhabi government. The Abu Dhabi Police Department employs cutting-edge screening technology worldwide to capture drug users on the road. However, such measures are only helpful against externalities; hence, the government has introduced other measures to cobalt addiction.
One such case is the introduction of treatment, not punishment, by the UAE government. The policy aims to encourage family members and individuals with drug addiction to come forward and get treatment, unlike previous approaches, which were very harsh. The call made during the nationwide campaign to mark the International Day Against Drug Abuse, and Illicit Trafficking aims to encourage more people to volunteer for drug abuse treatment. The government, through the policy, aims to shield such individuals from prosecution as per article 14 of the Federal Law, which states that any narcotics addict or stimulants who willingly submits oneself to the Addiction Treatment Unit or the Public Prosecution, asking treatment not face criminal charges.
Besides encouraging voluntary treatment, the UAE government has introduced other measures such as education on the dangers of drug addiction and available treatment methods. In this regard, the first step has been to educate the police across the seven emirates on drugs’ usage, types, and effects held over specific periods. The next level of training has been through schools due to the vulnerability of youth to drug addiction. As a result, in collaboration with law enforcement agencies and specialized ministries, the UAE government has implemented new guidelines requiring educators to know about drug and substance misuse (Murah et al.). As a result, they are now obliged to complete particular courses to thoroughly understand these issues before beginning their careers as educators in the United Arab Emirates.
Challenges in Combating Drug Addiction
Although the UAE government has taken measures to resolve drug addiction, significant barriers exist to these efforts. One such barrier is the societal stigma which prevents many drug addicts from seeking help. In some communities in UAE, health problems related to drug use can go unnoticed due to the stigma surrounding drug abuse. The stigma associated with drug abuse in UAE is due to the Islam culture, where many people think it is not an issue and does not exist. In such situations, people experiencing addiction can avoid seeking help, further exacerbating their drug addiction. As such, the measures introduced by the government especially educating the public on realities associated with drug addiction, can help eradicate social stigma (Alsuwaidi).
As a transshipment point for drugs from southwest Asian countries, Dubai’s location challenges fighting against drug addiction. The threat of drug usage in the UAE cannot be isolated from its broader perspective, especially given that the problem’s beginnings are outside the country, and the country is home to a diverse population of nationalities. Some criminal elements take advantage of the UAE’s openness policy to bring in drugs. Two reasons have led to the rise of this crime, the UAE’s geographical location as a transit point between drug-producing and drug-consuming nations and the country’s astonishing affluence, which has attracted criminal groups looking to benefit from this illegal activity. With UAE a top tourist destination, drug cartels have taken advantage of such situations to provide drugs to high-end international clientele, as observed in the number of tourists arrested in the UAE due to drug possession.
The criminalization of drug addiction has resulted in unintended consequences. Several studies have shown that listing some drugs on the illegal list decreases their consumption. On the other hand, making one drug criminal illegal has unforeseen repercussions, such as boosting the use of a new narcotic that is difficult to manage. After adding Tramadol, an opioid, to the list of prohibited drugs, the number of persons taking Tramadol fell by half from 2013 to 2015, after reaching epidemic levels. Another medicine, Pregabalin, on the other hand, reached pandemic proportions in 2015 (Alsuwaid). The unintended effect is a steady fluctuation in the drug usage problem, making it more difficult for the healthcare system to respond.
As the world reels from the effects of covid-19, vulnerable drug addicts face the pandemic’s brunt. As the governments allocate more resources to fighting covid-19, efforts to fight drug addiction have slowed down. As such, the UAE government should continue to put more effort into combating addiction, mainly because the stress caused by covid-19 can elude the little efforts made due to relapses (Chiappini et al.).
Conclusion and Recommendation
As observed, drug addiction is a global problem that should be addressed from all fronts. In this research, the UAE government has employed several measures such as combating trafficking, education, and encouraging voluntary treatment. The countries location as a transshipment hub and top tourist destination has created challenges in tackling addiction. In this regard, the government should put more effort into addressing societal stigmatization of addiction through educating the public and should be included in religious teachings, which is the primary cause of stigmatization. The government should stop criminalizing drug addiction as it can result in individuals refusing voluntary treatment due to fear of prosecution. Although drug addiction continues to remain a challenge, the efforts made by the UAE government are commendable.
Alsuwaidi, Hamda. Understanding the Barriers to Integration to Society, Recovering Patient From Addiction Face: Qualitative Study in UAE. Diss. 2019.
Areas, Country Focus. “The United Arab Emirates.” 2018.
Chiappini, Stefania, et al. “COVID-19: The Hidden Impact on Mental Health and Drug Addiction.” Frontiers in psychiatry. 2020.
Murah, Tariq Ali, et al. “The Impact of Anti-Drug Awareness Strategy on Drug Abuse among Schools in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.” European Journal of Political Science Studies. 2020.
O’Brien, Charles P. “Drug Addiction.” Goodman & Gilman’s the Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics. 12th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill. 2011.