As is the case in many developing countries, the economic costs of substance abuse are increasing in Abu Dhabi. The financial burdens of lost productivity, incarceration, treatment and rehabilitation have led the emirate to move forward on an ambitious expansion of the government-owned National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC), which has already seen in-patient and outpatient numbers more than triple over the previous decade. With the aim of enhancing service offerings for this often-overlooked industry segment, the government has announced plans for a new multimillion-dollar facility that will significantly improve treatment options and bed availability for rehabilitation.
The NRC has treated addiction in Abu Dhabi since it opened in 2002, with developers using international best practices to establish an integrated facility for male and female patients of all ages. Since then patient numbers at the centre have grown rapidly, reaching 1450 in 2013, up from 392 in 2009, while capacity has also expanded dramatically, rising from just eight beds in 2002 to 90 presently, with the addition of new facilities such as the Khalifa Rehabilitation Complex, which opened under the aegis of the NRC with 48 beds in 2012.
NRC staff report that a large number of cases of addiction in the UAE begin with readily available substances, including intoxicative inhalants like glue, later progressing to prescription drugs, which are inexpensive and easy to find. According to doctors at the centre, a more worrying trend of late has been children as young as nine and 10 years old becoming addicted to harmful substances.
“Internationally, more and more people are becoming addicted to drugs and harmful substances, and the UAE is no exception, as our patient numbers have tripled over the last three years. Though the rate of substance addiction is increasing, we are seeing a significant proportion of addicts seeking treatment voluntarily,” Dr Hamad Al Ghaferi, director-general of the NRC, told OBG. Indeed, an estimated 70-80% of the NRC’s patients admit themselves to the facility. Average relapse rates stand at 42%, which is lower than international standards of between 50% and 60%.
Preventive & Follow-Up Care
Following treatment, the centre assists patients in finding employment, moving in May 2014 to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Abu Dhabi Tawteen Council, which will develop labour market opportunities for rehabilitated patients across the UAE.
“The MoU signed between the NRC and Abu Dhabi Tawteen Council will help develop labour market opportunities for substance abuse patients across the country. It will support them to effectively reintegrate into society, making them positive drivers in the UAE’s continued economic development,” Dr Al Ghaferi told OBG.
NRC staff also work to raise awareness within the community, through initiatives such as Fawasel, a pilot programme undertaken in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Education Council to educate teachers about encouraging healthier lifestyles among pupils. Launched in 2013, the programme aims to nip addiction in the bud, while reducing the stigma surrounding it. Emirates National Schools was among the first private schools to request the programme for their campuses in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. The NRC has also partnered with US Maclean University Hospital, UAE University, UK King’s University, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and the World Health Organisation to roll out preventive programmes. These strategies make sense, considering the economic burden addiction puts on the health care system. According to the NRC, addiction cost an estimated 1.4% of GDP, or $5.5bn in 2012.
Rehabilitation activities will expand further in the coming years, following the Abu Dhabi Executive Council’s announced in April 2014 that it had approved the construction of a new National Rehabilitation Centre in Shakhboot City, adjacent to Al Mafreq Hospital. The Dh285m ($77.6m) project will include a number of new buildings and administrative facilities, spanning some 40,000 sq metres and offering a total of 170 beds, which could be expanded to 200 if required.
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