Abu Dhabi will put treatment for users and education for families at the heart of a new policy to tackle the scourge of drugs.
A number of government agencies will seek to limit access to illegal substances, while ensuring addicts are treated rather than punished.
Officials said that confidentiality for families and addicts is a major focus.
Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, chairman of the Department of Community Development, said a multi-agency response would "help in early identification of cases ... and ensure social reintegration of recovering substance users".
Speaking in Abu Dhabi on Monday, he said the aim was “to reduce the demand and addiction rates and to protect our children. We cannot leave our children to fall victim to these dealers."
Although drug use in the Gulf tends to be much lower than in Europe and North America, it is a major market for dealers.
An investigation by The National last year showed amphetamines, such as Captagon, were flooding into the Gulf, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, mostly in shipments from Syria.
Fear of asking for help
Under the theme of ‘A Community Safe from Addiction’, the new strategy has several main objectives — preventing substance use, enabling early identification and intervention, providing appropriate treatment to substance users and ensuring fast reintegration of those recovering into their families and society.
For the first time, every government authority will be working together to achieve these goals from the police and schools to hospitals and local clinics.
Dr Layla Al Hayas, executive director of the monitoring and social innovation sector at DCD, said of drug addiction: ”This is a disease where users are prone to relapse. It is a burden on the economy and families. Not every user is an addict but we want to focus on prevention and we don’t want to work in silos."
She said families might have a drug addict at home who refuses to seek treatment for fear of being stigmatised.
“We want to work on providing them help privately without fear of stigma,” she said.
Dr Al Khaili said: “We expect that after enforcing the strategy, it will decrease drug use rates and related deaths and increase the number of people getting treatment."
The UAE recently downgraded penalties for drug and alcohol misuse in some circumstances.
Other legislation allows law enforcement to take a practical approach to people who, in error, may bring small amounts of drugs into the country. This includes products containing cannabis extracts, which have been decriminalised or legalised in a number of countries.
But selling or trafficking drugs can lead to years in jail.
Prosecutors can push for the death penalty for drug dealing, although it is rarely used.