Children as young as 14 addicted to drugs, UAE authorities say

Parents being urged to engage in open conversations about the risks associated with substance use

Prosecutors in Dubai say the average age of drug addiction in the UAE is now between 14 and 20 years old, based on what they are witnessing.

Officials said social media platforms are fuelling teenage drug abuse, with many hooked on illegal substances including tramadol, Captagon, magic mushrooms and hash, among others.

They are urging parents to be extra vigilant in monitoring their children's online activities and engaging in open conversations about the risks associated with drug use.

Abdullah Al Raisi, assistant chief prosecutor at the Anti Narcotics Department at Dubai Public Prosecution, called the trend a "grave issue".

"The average age of addiction is between 14 and 20 years old based on our investigations in cases," he said at a public lecture held in Dubai last week.

"This is a grave issue that we must address promptly."

Teenagers like to explore new things including illegal drugs, thinking one time consumption will not turn them into addicts, said Mr Al Raisi.

"It is rare to see someone trying a drug once. Usually, people become drug addicts without noticing," he added.

Mohammed Al Hammad, attorney general at Deira Prosecution in Dubai, noted that it was hard to monitor teenagers online, but that parents should be extra vigilant.

"It becomes harder to monitor the teenagers in the digital era as more youngsters are exploring social media platforms and meeting new friends who might lure them into trying illegal drugs," he said.

"They are what we call a coincident friend, who might show up in the teen's life for 10 minutes through social media and then have a devastating impact."

Seeking help

A 36-year-old Emirati man who consumed a variety of illegal substances from the age of 14, said that the National Rehabilitation Centre in Abu Dhabi helped him to recover from a 16-year drug addiction.

"I was curious and wanted to explore consuming drugs due to the influence of bad friends," he told The National.

"I went to the rehab centre asking for treatment after sustained physical and mental risks due to addiction. My family also suffered because of that."

The former addict, who identified himself only as MS, said that after a long course of treatment, he became an active member at the rehab centre to help newcomers.

"It is important to have a stable family and educate teenagers about the dangers of illegal drugs and what they should do if someone speaks to them about drugs," he said.

"Parents should share their time with their children in sport and social activities."

Harrowing consequences

A mother in the UAE recalled the "sheer terror" she felt when she discovered that her 14-year-old son was found unconscious on the street.

The woman, originally from Syria and who wanted to remain anonymous, said that her son had fallen into the wrong crowd and was allegedly encouraged to experiment with hash, an illegal drug he had purchased from someone on Instagram.

"I could never have imagined being told about my 14-year-old son being found unconscious near a mosque in Sharjah," she told The National.

"The sheer terror I felt in that moment is indescribable. My brother called me that morning and told me my son had called him in a vague and tired voice at around 4am that day asking for help."

Her son was not making much sense, but the brother managed to understand enough to locate him.

"What I later found out shocked me even more. My son had been under police surveillance for some time," she said.

She said the officers were incredibly supportive, and thanked them for their intervention. Officers were also able to locate the drug dealer following the son's co-operation.

The four days her son spent in prison was a life-altering experience for him, she said.

"He has become more cautious about who he associates with, both online and in the real world," she added.

"While those days were harrowing for all of us, they served as a pivotal turning point for my son. We had many open conversations about the consequences of his actions, not just legally but also how it impacts his future and his family."

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Updated: September 28, 2023, 3:30 AM