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Reducing drug abuse
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 05 - 10 - 2017

“My son is a drug addict. At first we did not know that he used drugs, but we found that things were disappearing from our house, especially expensive ones like jewellery and money. One day when my son did not find any money, he shouted at me to get it. He told me why he needed the money. I knew then that he had become a drug addict. I am now trying to rehabilitate him,” said one Cairo mother who chose to speak on condition of anonymity.
As millions of young people are introduced to drugs all over the world; the question is why do they do it?
To present the facts about the issue in Egypt, Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali has announced the results of the National Survey on Smoking and Drug Addiction among secondary school students in the country. They found that 7.7 per cent of secondary school students take drugs, 12.8 per cent smoke, and 8.3 per cent drink alcoholic beverages.
The survey was conducted on a sample of 5,048 students from 13 cities representing all the Egyptian governorates. Port Said and Assiut were recorded as the governorates with the most frequent cases of drug abuse, and of those calling a ministry hotline for help, some 16,000 were young people. Approximately 72 per cent of the students said they had got information about smoking and drugs from the media, the report said.
Many governmental and non-governmental organisations are now fighting drug abuse in Egypt, something that should be supported in order to combat social indifference and any acceptance of this destructive habit.
Manager of the Fund for Drug Control and the Treatment of Addiction (FDCTA), affiliated to the Ministry of Social Solidarity, Amr Othman, gave details about the fund's work on drug control and raising social awareness. “The fund was founded by presidential decree in 1990 and is the executive arm for efforts to decrease the demand for drugs in partnership with the concerned ministries,” he said.
“The fund is composed of different sectors, including the research and studies sector which looks at the reality of drug abuse in Egypt. There is a very important sector called the awareness sector, another called the media sector, and there is the sector for treating patients and a hotline for them.”
The fund works in partnership with the Ministry of Health, especially its rehabilitation centres. It works with the ministry of Waqf (religious endowments) to support preaching on drug abuse, and with the Ministry of Education to improve the role of education. With the National Press Authority it works to support the role of the media in combating drug abuse. It also works with the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Higher Education to train those treating drug addiction as well as with social and psychological experts in collaboration with the Faculty of Arts at Cairo University.
Othman said the diplomas issued by the ministry this academic year would increase the available scientific research on problems of addiction. Experts will be trained to deal with drug users and help decrease the demand for drugs.
The fund oversees databases on problems of drug abuse, identifying how far this has spread in Egypt. Most users are aged between 15 and 60 years old, ranging from people who have tried a narcotic drug at least once in their lifetimes to addicts. Two per cent of them are addicts who are physically and psychologically dependent on narcotic substances.
To tackle such problems, the fund works on raising awareness with a particular focus on youth. “We have a dedicated awareness-raising sector at the fund that works with different ministries. It started as a plan launched by the cabinet in 2015 in line with work with 11 ministries in combating drug abuse. The idea has been to merge the issue of drug abuse and smoking in school syllabuses and make it obligatory in the primary stage. We are developing other materials for use in technical education,” Othman said, adding that some 26,000 young volunteers were working with the Fund in different governorates.
There are also programmes implemented in collaboration with NGOs concerned about raising the awareness of families in facing the problems of drug abuse.
ROLE OF THE MEDIA: Othman described the importance of the media in the war against drug abuse, saying that a media campaign entitled “You are Stronger than Drugs” had featured football player Mohamed Salah and actor Mohamed Ramadan as well as many other artists and sports icons.
The campaign has seen the FDCTA Facebook page, which only had 5,000 visitors two years ago, increase its users by up to one million, the majority of them young people.
The fund has earmarked particular resources for combating the problem of drug users who drive. “Drivers are routinely tested for drug use by the General Traffic Authority affiliated to the Ministry of Interior. As a result, the number of those testing positive has been radically reduced. We also have campaigns focusing on school bus drivers, testing some 5,000 over the past two years. The result has been a radical drop in the number found to take drugs,” Othman said.
He added that workers responsible for overseeing education buildings had also been tested, leading to similar results. The fund also runs an important drug-use hotline that can help with confidential treatment information and other services, he said. “Some 37,000 patients have called us to benefit from treatment and consultation services,” he added.
Othman said that the fund was also working to help former addicts reintegrate into society and help them to prevent relapse. “Not only do we have medical treatment programmes, but we also have psychological treatment programmes, rehabilitation programmes and rehabilitation centres working with us. We make social inclusion a priority, and we provide rehabilitated people with loans to help them to start micro-projects that can help them to build self-esteem and decrease the possibility of relapse,” he said.
Drugs frequently used include tramadol, a prescription painkiller, opiates and cannabis, with the latter being the most popular. Drug abuse can also be the cause of other problems, including criminal behaviour. “Drug use is tied to issues such as unemployment, street children and child labour,” Othman said, and “drug abuse can easily lead to drug addiction.”
One area that the fund is working on is tackling the idea, still held in some rural areas, that taking some drugs is not a bad habit. “It is very important to work on many levels and to remain in touch with the bulk of the population on the issue. Working peer-to-peer with young people is very effective. We do not work in traditional ways, but instead try to reach out to people in various ways. We have a programme that talks about resiliency and life skills that we tie to the issue of drug use, for example,” Othman said.
“The media campaigns we organise have a positive effect on young people, and some 45 million have reacted to them, for example through social media and the Salah campaign.”
However, there are still barriers to the fund's work in fighting drug abuse. “We are fighting misconceptions that have become rooted in society, like trying drugs to improve physical abilities or even to help tackle problems. These are very strong challenges that need work over a long period of time to overcome,” Othman said.
“At the same time, we have limited financial resources, and this is also a barrier that we are working to tackle. Another challenge is to recruit volunteers on a wider scale. The problem of drugs in Egypt also cannot be seen in isolation from the problems of security in some neighbouring countries, including Libya, because such problems overcome geographical barriers.”
TREATMENT AND REHABILITATION: The fund uses different types of rehabilitation centre in its work.
“We are not a private institute that cures drug addiction, and instead we work with the Ministry of Health, the Armed Forces, and university hospitals. We have partnerships with 19 rehabilitation centres and observe international standards,” Othman said.
“We recently held a workshop with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and received experts from Vienna to tell us about new developments in policies on drug use.” He added that the fund was planning a workshop dedicated to the treatment of female users and developing rehabilitation programmes for them. In October, it will organise an event on teenagers followed by a workshop on quality assurance and decreasing the demand for drugs.
“We have taken the first steps on the path to abolishing the problem of drug addiction. However, what will guarantee real change is sustainability and quality assurance. The percentage of drug users in Egypt has decreased because of follow-up and ongoing work. The most important thing is that we have indicators that determine that we are going in the right direction and help us adjust when need be. I think these are the most important things that have made a huge difference in the case of drug use,” Othman commented.
The success of the “You are Stronger than Drugs” campaign has also suggested others, including one targeting young women. Ten per cent of users are young women, but only two per cent of these come for help because of the social stigma of drug use among women. The age group of young addicts of both sexes is 15 to 25 years old.
“I would like to see Egypt have a rehabilitation centre in each governorate under the umbrella of the FDCTA. We now have 11 governorates in which we are working at 19 rehabilitation centres. But we will be opening new centres in Sharqeya and in Mansoura soon,” Othman said.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity survey recommends that school activities should routinely include awareness sessions about the dangers of smoking and drug use. Alcoholics Anonymous Egypt can help men and women share their experiences and recover from alcohol abuse, and this could suggest new initiatives for treating drug abuse in the future.

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