The Emirates, also known as the United Arab Emirates, presently claims an increasing population of above 9 million people. The expatriates make up the highest portion of population, with almost 7.8 million individuals, and the rest 1.4 million are native Emirati. The United Arab Emirates has maintained strict control on concerns such as consumption of alcohol as well as drugs, public decency, and dress code. The country has imposed severe punishment for the usage of drugs. Sharia law is the legal code controlling drug trafficking and drug abuse. The UAE is more concerned with the growing rate of drug abuse related deaths. Thus, in the previous year, the rate of drug-related death raised to 6.1 people in a million. However, this figure is lower compared with other nations; therefore, the concern affects the society as a whole. The consumption of drugs is a critical challenge involving various economic and social factors.

Different reasons can lead to drug consumption in young individuals, including travelling abroad, family complaints, issues at home, stress related to life, and peer pressure. Drug abuse is considered a conservative culture since it is easier to use drugs than alcohol and because it is manifested mostly in social activity. Therefore, it is essential not to underestimate the high cost of such issue. Drug addicts are treated and rehabilitated with Dh5.5 billion yearly. Previously, such cost was utilized in campaigns related to educating young Emiratis on involving into drugs use and related costs to the state. Each year, the UAE economic cost of drug addiction adds up to Dh5.5billion. The National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) together with the UN Office for Drugs and Crime carried out a study of financial losses calculated based on a 2012-15 report in Abu Dhabi, with participation of twenty universities and departments within the UAE. This policy briefly analyzes the issue of drug abuse in the United Arabs Emirates and makes recommendations.

Drug Abuse Pattern in the UAE

The UAE has 100% zero-tolerance of drug use or possession. The criminal and civil punishment for possession or use of illegal drugs is a major warning for most Emirati. Due proximity of to the UAE to southwest Asian countries manufacturing drugs, the former has become a drug transshipment nation for traffickers. In the UAE, drug trafficking is one of the biggest crimes, and the country has a policy that prohibits consumption of illegal drugs. If found with even a tiny amount of illegal substance, a person can be sentenced to four years imprisonment minimum. Nonetheless, most UAE residents are incapable of managing their addiction problems and thus face jail terms. Offences related to drugs mostly lead to imprisonment of four to ten years or more, if a person is involved in serious drug-related offences. Moreover, drug trafficking can lead to death sentence or life imprisonment. It is evident drug abuse is an issue in the UAE, and since Dubai is a key international hub for travel and business, drug abusers have real opportunities to access illegal drugs.

Since in the UAE drugs are forbidden, Emiratis who are addicted to illicit drugs stay quiet about their affliction. Rather than seeking aid or requesting close families to support their rehabilitation, they silently suffer and fail to do anything about their addiction until it becomes too late. The National Rehabilitation Centre claims that 5.3% of total deaths in the UAE annually result from illicit drug addiction and alcohol abuse. Unfortunately, there is lack of better responses in the Emirates for individuals who need help. The social stigma hinders most Emiratis from looking for help.

Recently, a report concerning the economic and social impact of substance abuse in the Emirates concluded that the financial cost of substance abuse amounts to $1.6 billion (Dh5.5 billion) yearly. The report conducted by the Abu Dhabi National Rehabilitation Centre that was published in late March indicates that the cost of loss of productivity was much higher compared to the cost of programs related to drug prevention, schemes to reintegrate former addicts into society, and treatment. A research conducted by the NRC shows a significant social cost of drug abuse, which was supported by the UN’s Office on Crime and Drugs. For instance, a considerable number of individuals suffering from addiction in the UAE (approximately 45%) are unemployed and have not completed high school.

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In the recent years, the rate of addiction, mostly the abuse of prescription drugs, has increased significantly. For example, Tramadol is a highly misused prescription drug in the UAE. This is an opiate with various brand names, such as Ultram and Ultracet, used to aid in managing pain. Tramadol abusers as well as users develop addiction to the drug quickly and need larger and larger doses to feel the desired effect. Other prescription drugs that are illegally found in the UAE are Legaflex (Carisoprodol), which is utilized to halt pain in the brain and nerves; Penicillamine (Artin), which is prescribed for severe rheumatic pain and Wilson disease; Lyrica, which is used to treat nerve pain and control seizures; Kemadrin/Camadrin, for used for treatment of Parkinson’s disease symptoms; and Dormicum (Midazolam), which is prescribed for short-term insomnia. A statistic showed that 75% of patients seeking treatment were referred by their families or voluntarily did so. The remaining percentage was referred by the police. A high percentage of those seeking assistance points to both the opportunity for treatment and the growing awareness of abuse issues in the society.

Drug consumption in the UAE is not restricted to a specific ethnic group or nationality but refers to all residents regardless of their country of origin. The increasing number of drug abusers among UAE nationals is the major issue for the country since the UAE population consists of almost 27.1% of native Emiratis, and 72.1% of the population consist of immigrant nationalities; consequently, drug usage rate among the native citizens of the UAE is high. According to a study, young people aged 18-29 years old are the most likely to engage in drug use in the UAE. Most drug addicts are young, mostly in their twenties. The report indicated a significant relationship between abandoning school early and drug abuse. The report does not only rely on the decreasing attainment in education but also offering teens at an early stage of drug abuse jobs with high salaries offered by some employers, including the police and army, thus enabling them to have an easy access to drugs.

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Policy Recommendations

A significant factor causing the rising issue of drug abuse in the UAE is the lack of a clear-cut comprehensive policy to address the issue. In the UAE, drug policy depends mostly on commitment of various governmental organizations and individuals’ efforts. These efforts are usually focused on the law enforcement agencies in the UAE. This policy consists of rehabilitation and medication, preventive measures, struggle with dealers and traffickers, law enforcement concerning addicts, and drug control laws. Many determinations that are trying to minimize access to illicit drugs in the Emirates. The only organization working on minimizing availability of drugs in the UAE society is the Interior Ministry. The role of the customs department in battling drugs is either ineffective or virtually absent. Insignificant effort is taken in terms of prevention of drug abuse. Various state organizations that should participate in this issue are not engaged in the drug prevention policy. Theses governmental organizations include the Ministry of Youth, the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Social affairs, and the Ministry of Health.

The main objective of the UAE government is to understand the patterns of issues related to drugs and drug abuse prior to establishing a novel policy regarding drug abuse. A decrease in supply of illicit drug is an evident objective of any policy to fight drugs. Additionally, a similar important element of a successful policy for managing drug abuse is decreasing demand. It involves helping people who abuse drugs to rehabilitate and persuading them not to use drugs. Various policies that were aimed only at ensuring a decrease in drug supply have failed. For the course of reducing supply to be effective, mechanisms to minimize drugs demand should be given similar attention as drug trafficking prevention.

One of the recommendations to address the issue is to invest in clinics for drug treatment. Thus, there is currently a shortage of clinics dealing with addiction treatment and general medical treatment for drug addicts. Therefore, clinics focusing on treating drug addiction should be established in numerous areas in the UAE depending on the geographical distribution of the population. The existing system focuses more on the provision of medical treatment and a struggle to halt drug consumption and overlooks social and other fundamental features of the issue of addiction. The connection between the medical centers and addicts breaks at the time an addict is discharged from the health facility. Treatment of addicts does not entail social-based support, follow-up care, and rehabilitation due to the inadequacy of facilities and qualified personnel in addiction clinics.

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Law enforcement policies should also be included as a measure of the drug prevention policy. An increasing focus of law enforcement on activities related to illegal drugs might hinder attempts to obtain drugs, thus leading to a rise of prices for drugs on the streets. Increased prices for drugs might force drug abusers to seek treatment, namely those abusers who suffer from psychological and physical problems due to addiction to opiates. The existing strategy by law enforcement focusses on apprehending low-level retail dealers and drug abusers.
Therefore, this policy fails to reduce the supply of drugs and causes an increase in prices for the drugs on the streets since the arrested low-level dealers are replaced immediately. The strategy of police officers should significantly aim at confiscating assets and revenue obtained through illegal drug activities, decreasing the risks of drug distribution and importation through punishing and prosecuting users, carriers, both high and low-level dealers, and seizure of larger quantities of drugs.

Special programmes should be established to protect families from issues related to drug abuse, such as health, economic and social complications. Additionally, preventive measures are best administered in the family setting. The family drug preventive mechanism should focus on prevention of premature exit from schools, taking measures to keep young people interested in their education as well as prevention of antisocial behavior in educational settings. In addition, the programs should involve addressing the issue of alcohol and drug consumption and smoking among the members of abuser’s family. Taking measures to help parents recognize that one of their children is a drug abuser is yet another objective of the drug preventive program. In addition, other family drug preventive programs includes early involvement at work, antisocial behavior, and dangers of consuming drugs in a family.

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Another recommendation is to counter drug abuse through the Ministry of Information. The mass media plays a great role in drug prevention and enlightening individuals about the harm of drugs, which is an important aspect of drug prevention policy in various nations. The reason for this lies in the substantial capability of the media to affect trends and public opinion. Generally, in the UAE, the media makes a responsible contribution to fighting drugs. Radio and television stations, newspapers and magazines are obligated to warn, educate, and enlighten the society about the dangers of drug abuse. They should spread awareness among individuals and educate them so as to prevent drug abuse. Additionally, they should interview experts dealing with Islamic affairs, law enforcement, and addiction to increase people’s awareness of drugs and related dangers and to prevent drug abuse. Also, interviews with sociologists, psychiatrists, and addicts are to be conducted in magazines, radio, television, and newspapers.

The objective of these programmes should be to educate the society; however, currently they focus mainly on theoretical issues, thus hindering their understanding by most individuals. These programmes are mostly established with good intentions but by unqualified individuals trying to fill the breach of a designed program for preventing drug in the Emirates through the media . Therefore, programmes might have adverse effects on the UAE society, more so the illiterate. In the Emirates, the mass media lacks suitable qualified personnel to evaluate, supervise, and organize drug preventive programs. Almost all programs are screened at any time and are designed for every age. In addition, these programs do not follow a specific persuasion method, such as warning or informing. They direct more attention on techniques of seeking help for addicts, identifying drug abusers, physical and social characteristics of addicts, patterns of drug behavior, and legal aspects of abusing drugs. Although most of these aspects are essential, media programs on drug abuse are ineffective since they do not concentrate on particular areas of the society who can benefit from the presented information and message. The media focusing on drug prevention fail to research the characteristic of their audience prior to broadcasting programs, evaluating them after the broadcast. Therefore, the media will end up not knowing the society’s reaction since most people gain benefit from drug abuse and hence fail to give feedback to help the media enhance their programmes.

Implementing preventive efforts by the Ministry of Education, such as health education of schoolchildren, is another recommendation. In the UAE, drug policy should prioritize safeguarding students from drug-related dangers. Programs relating to drug prevention in institutions should focus on overall health of students and ways of improving it. Furthermore, they should entail information concerning psychological, physical, mental, and social effects of drug usage. The programs should focus on increasing students’ knowledge of antisocial behavior and aid in relating their studies with their current situation. In the UAE, the education system entirely depends on the teacher’s educational role and teaching process. However, there is a lack competent psychologists and social workers capable of dealing with drug issues in schools. The few available specialists with the ability to handle drug issues are either involved in administrative activities more than drug abuse or are inexperienced. Inadequate facilities for students’ spare time is among the key factors of drug abuse.

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In the Ministry of Education, the Department of Social Work is obliged to handle educational, family, and social issues that students come across in the institutions. Therefore, the department should come up with drug prevention methods to aid learners in resisting drugs such as holding time-to-time seminars to teach about drug abuse and related dangers and giving lessons about the dangers associated with using drugs, especially through posters as well as murals in the form of magazine stories. Various leaders and experts from health education, law enforcement, legal affairs, and religion should attend these seminars and later publish posters, pamphlets, and leaflets. These publications should empower students to shun away from drugs through showing the outcomes of drug consumption on health; therefore, it is essential for drug prevention to be included in the educational curriculum. Additionally, to engage in drug prevention campaign, various lessons should involve information concerning general health education, including drug prevention.


It is evident that drug abuse is a common problem facing the UAE, which in some cases leads to death. The mostly affected individuals are aged 18-29. Therefore, in every one million people 6.1 drug-related deaths are reported yearly. Possession and use of drugs are the major offences under the law in UAE. The government of the UAE has zero tolerance towards people, either citizens or travelers, possessing illegal drugs since this can lead to from a minimum of 4 years imprisonment to 10 years in jail for serious drug cases. It has been reported that 5.3% of total deaths are caused by alcohol and illegal drugs consumption. Therefore, various recommendations are considered in order to address the issue of drug abuse in the country. First, the Ministry of Education should take preventive efforts by using health education. Also, prevention of drug abuse can be facilitated with the help of the Ministry of Information through the media. In addition, the UAE government should invest in health facilities for drug treatment.

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