Exam stress, peer pressure and a lack of awareness about the dangers of drugs is creating a "perfect storm" for substance abuse among younger people, an expert has said.
Discussing drugs can no longer be a taboo subject and UAE youth must be armed with knowledge to understand the devastating effects of addiction, a Dubai conference was told.
At an event held to announce the agenda for the 2019 Hemaya International Forum - an annual conference organised by Dubai Police in partnership with the United Nations to combat drug use - parents were urged to tackle the issue head-on with children from a young age.
Dubai Police's youth education programme is being led by the Heyama International Centre, which opened last August and will be officially launched during the forum, which is being held on April 28 and 29.
"It’s about education and emboldening the community, including the parents,” said Col Abdulla Al Khayat, manager of Hemaya International Centre.
“You know, most problems start when people are teenagers.
“Parents believe their children are so innocent and they don’t have to talk to them about drugs but this is not right because our kids know a lot from social media and from the people around them."
Police education programmes can address public fear of talking about substance abuse, said Dr Saliha Afridi, a clinical psychologist and the managing director of The Lighthouse Arabia Centre for Wellbeing.
“If we have the police talking about these issues then it will be easier for teachers and parents to talk,” she said.
“Sometimes there’s a lot of anxiety about what can be said and what can’t be said, what is legal to say and what isn’t. There are a lot of myths and fallacies about what can be said.”
Youth in the UAE face academic stress and peer pressure and this can be a driver for substance abuse.
“The fact that they have high stress, peer pressure and lack of awareness is like the perfect storm,” said Dr Afridi. “The pressures are no different here, it’s just that here there’s a lot less education.”
Parents must listen to questions about drug use from children without casting judgement, she said.
“Things get tricky when people don’t feel safe to talk to their parents or teachers.”
Registration for the upcoming Heyama conference will be free to parents, teachers and members of the public.
“Social responsibility belongs to everybody, not just the Dubai Police,” said Dr Abdul Al Madani, the executive chair of the upcoming forum.
“Dealing with the cases at home and at schools helps people to get on the right track,” he added. “Article 43 of the 1995 anti narcotic law says if you come to police and say you want treatment, you get the treatment without any punishment. If you have a child, friend, a husband or wife using drugs, don’t be shy to get help because the law is beside you.”