UAE authorities urged parents to be vigilant after reports that children as young as 12 are falling into drug abuse.
Officials said many young children are becoming addicted to drugs because of a lack of monitoring from parents.
New data show the average age of first-time substance abuse in the UAE dropped from 16 years to 12 years.
“It’s essential we develop educational and hands-on programmes to protect teens between 12 years and 14 years from drugs,” said Lt Gen Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, deputy chairman of Police and Public Security in Dubai.
Speaking during "Family, the first line of defence", a virtual seminar organised by the Juvenile Association and Dubai Police's Hemaya International Centre, Gen Tamim said drug abuse was one of the most pressing security challenges in the country.
“The age of teens using drugs has dropped from 16 years to 12 years, which is an alarming indicator that calls for revising strategies and for enhancing the family’s role,” he said.
Gen Tamim said parents should be taught how to look for behaviour or symptoms that could indicate drug abuse by teens.
Parents should not live in denial, and should seek immediate professional help to ensure their children do not become addicts.
Families should not worry about their reputation and must inform the authorities.
In 2019, Dubai Police rehabilitated 120 drugs users without fear of criminal charges being pressed.
“We are also working very hard to enhance the capabilities of anti-narcotics officers and teams to tighten control and uncover any new criminal methods, especially during the coronavirus outbreak,” said Gen Tamim, who is also the chairman of the UAE's Anti-Narcotics Council.
Senior officials participated in the event held to mark the international day against drug abuse and trafficking.
“The brains of teens are still developing," said Dr Hamad Al Ghafri, director general of the National Rehabilitation Centre. "They are still too young to understand what is right or wrong.
"Ninety-five per cent of the children who do drugs do so because of family problems.
“The same percentage of first-time users took to drugs for a second time while 85 per cent of them suffered a relapse after treatment," Dr Al Ghafri said.
Dr Al Ghafri said treatment and rehabilitation of teenagers is different from that of adults and requires the involvement of family.
Hessa Buhumaid, Minister of Community Development in the UAE, said families were being educated about the dangers of drugs, the various types available, and preventive methods to help children.
Last week, Dubai Police also urged parents to monitor their children’s social media activities, because dealers continue to use these platforms and apps to sell drugs.
Between January and May of this year, 10 accounts on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook that were used to promote drugs were detected and shut down in the emirate.