(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) A former addict-turned-drug counsellor tells kelly clarke how he wants his experience to create a positive path for others.
at just 15 it wasn’t the latest smartphone or online gaming that had young hamad (name changed) hooked. it was an addiction far more debilitating and one which spiralled out of control very quickly.
“it was 1993 and i had just moved to the us to continue my studies. my friends there kept telling me about this drug and how it would take my stress away.”
that drug was marijuana and after trying it for the first time the vulnerable teen began smoking it on a daily basis before moving on to heavier more potent drugs.
hamad now 36 reformed and a voluntary drug counsellor at ownak a social rehabilitation centre for recovering drug addicts candidly tells his story to khaleej times to deter others from going down the path he did.
an epidemic which continues to grow today drug abuse kills more than 200000 people each year according to united nations figures and it’s the younger generations that are falling victim to its lure. hamad was one of these victims.
rewind to the early 90s when dubai began witnessing many changes. the first of the high-rises began to take shape as did construction on its busiest highway shaikh zayed road but big changes were occurring in hamad’s life too.
after being granted an internship by the uae government the teenager bid goodbye to his family and headed for the us to study electronics.
“it was a great opportunity but i was this young boy who went from an islamic country to a country where i had so much freedom. i had no family around me either so i was vulnerable” he tells khaleej times.
although he began experimenting with several drugs marijuana became a daily craving and he would use the little money he had to fund the habit.
“i started using it regularly buying two or three pounds at a time” he says. “but i never turned to crime to pay for the marijuana i always used my own earnings.”
graduating in 1997 hamad headed back to the uae to rejoin his family but kept his addiction secret.
as his drug use continued to spiral he had his first run-in with the law in 2001 after being caught with drugs and he was imprisoned for 10 months.
more aftercare centres planned
despite opening its doors to the public only eight months ago ownak the region’s first aftercare centre for drug addicts has 74 registered clients and cda social care expert dr hussain al maseeh hopes to roll out more centres across dubai soon.
“at the moment we serve only local residents from one location but once capacity allows we will open to everyone across several centres throughout the city” he told khaleej times.
although the uae does not hold any official statistics culminating data on drug abuse across the whole country dr hussain said this does not mean the problem does not exist.
“the cda encountered many cases of locals with drug abuse issues hence we opened this centre and have other drug-related programmes.”
and though drug abuse may not be as widespread in the uae as in other countries he said the outpatient facility was initiated to tackle the problem head-on with a focus on helping rehabilitate prisoners.
“the idea for the ownak centre came from the dose of hope programme which was rolled out across dubai’s prisons. first we wean prisoner off drugs through dose of hope and when they are drug-free and released from prison they can enrol in the ownak aftercare programme.”
the success of the dose of hope programme means cda reports can help in the early release of reformed inmates he said provided they sign up for the aftercare programme upon release.
with 74 clients currently registered at the centre dr hussain said the biggest problem they have witnessed is the abuse of psychotropic medications.
“whether getting them off the black market or simply abusing prescription medication psychotropic medications have been the prevalent drugs abused by our clients” dr hussain said.
he added that risk factors leading to drug addiction could arise from personal problems or societal issues but noted that the majority of people referred to ownak have been young people.
“because of their age and vulnerability they are seen as a good target or client by experienced drug dealers” he said.
a free and voluntary programme the ownak centre brings psychiatrists and drug counsel experts on site to take part in daily sessions with clients with family interaction a core element to help reformed addicts stay off drugs.
“based on scientific research the more the family is involved in a client’s programme the more successful the treatment is. so we now plan to hold family days every month” he said.
with two women currently registered at the ownak centre there is also talk of opening a women’s-only centre he said.
“even the arrest didn’t deter me” he says. “as soon as i was released i started using (drugs) again.”
his life then became a vicious cycle of drug abuse and imprisonment.
after being imprisoned six times over an 11-year period it was a community development authority (cda) drug rehabilitation programme which spurred him to face his demons and deal with his addiction.
“my brother passed away while i was in prison and i was unable to attend the burial. that was when i realised i had to quit because i had lost so much” he says.
he began attending the cda’s dose of hope programme in 2012 which rehabilitates drug addicts and equips them with the skills to avoid a relapse and in august 2013 he was released from prison.
on his release hamad joined the cda’s aftercare programme ownak — the region’s first aftercare centre for drug addiction — and he continues to visit the centre daily for personal sessions while counselling other recovering addicts.
“i am here every day as i want to help create a positive path for other recovering addicts to follow. my experiences have helped me relate to other clients at the centre. without ownak i don’t know how my life would be today.”
although still a client of ownak himself hamad has become a paid volunteer at the centre and has visited schools and universities to present lectures as part of the cda’s ongoing awareness programmes.
with addiction described as a “repetition of a behaviour despite adverse consequences” it can cover a wide spectrum ranging from food addiction to tobacco addiction but hamad says awareness is vital when it comes to drug abuse.
“my addiction was drugs and it took a long time for me to realise they were ruining my life. if we make the public aware of the damaging repercussions addiction can have your life that’s the first step.”