Don’t suffer in silence, doctors advise drug addicts in Oman

Energy Monday 27/February/2017 21:46 PM
By: Times News Service
Don’t suffer in silence, doctors advise drug addicts in Oman

Muscat: Oman is now sending some drug addicts to treatment centres instead of jail, according to senior doctors, but females are still not seeking help. “In any society, not just Oman, if you are perceived as the caregiver then it is harder for society to help you. Drug use is stigmatised for men in the community, the stigma and shame are doubled for women.”
Read also: Rehabilitation and relapse of a young female addict in Oman
Dr. Asila Al Zaabi, Senior Specialist Psychiatrist in the Addiction Department at Al Masarra Hospital, has nine years experience in working with addicts.
Although the Sultanate is treating women, there is no designated ward for female addicts, according to Dr Zaabi.
“A special rehabilitation centre for women is definitely needed if we want to help them. We are currently able to accommodate few cases at a time and we can admit them if the service needed. However, we are still lacking a special ward to provide our service,” Dr Zaabi added. Dr Zaabi believes that there are many factors that impact a woman’s ability to seek treatment, and that social stigma is the strongest reason.
“The first and main reason is the stigma behind substance use in the community. Many women don’t know that there are addiction services in Oman that treat the female population. The last two reasons are fear orientated. They fear rejection from family, friends and work, and also fear punishment from a dominant family member,” she said.
In 2015, the National Committee for Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances (NCNPS) recorded a two per cent increase in the number of women seeking treatment. The annual report for that year, released by the Executive Office at the NCNPS, stated that only 372 new cases were registered in the National Registry of Addiction, with eight new registered female cases.
According to Dr Zaabi, stigma derives from the attitude, social standards and expectations that a society holds about the role of women compared to the role of men.
“Shame is a big psychological topic and issue. It is rooted in childhood. We already know the role of women and men, and the male gender is perceived as the dominant. In any society, not just Oman, if you are perceived as the caregiver then it is harder for society to help you. If being a drug user is bad for men, then the stigma and shame is doubled for women,” she said.
Dr Zaabi said the demographics of the women who seek addiction treatment services in her experience vary. Just like the disease of addiction, nobody is singled out.
“We do see cases of women who are married, single, and divorced. The age group ranges from 17 to 55. We do see married women who are brought by their families or women who bring themselves in after their husband - who was also a drug user- was sent to jail.
“The court system has recently started sending patients for treatment instead of serving prison time. This year I have already received two female cases, but those patients were forced to come and not by choice,” she said.
Women with a substance use disorder in the early recovery stage usually have a lot of concerns after being discharged home from treatment services.
“These patients are not trusted by their family, friends or even in the job environment. An example would be of them being accused of continuing using drugs despite recovery. The stigma women face can cost relationships and include being rejected from school, college, or job.
“Many women are concerned with loss of child custody, sometimes more than one child is involved. Of course, the fear of craving and relapsing to substance use is very prevalent as well,” Dr Zaabi said.
In the 2014 annual report, only seven women registered for treatment in the Sultanate, representing one percent of new cases that year. The year before in 2013, there were 17 new female cases and only six in 2012.
The 2015 annual report states the total number of registered males between 2004 and 2015 was 5289, representing 99% of the total registered cases.
One percent of that number represented the female population. Only 56 female addicts have been entered into the National Register in the last 11 years. The low number is attributed to under reporting. An advisory from the annual report states:
“The small number of female addicts registered in the National Registry may not reflect the true magnitude of illicit drug use among women. The reason for their reluctance to seek medical treatment may be the social stigma attached to females drug users.” Dr Zaabi urges families, communities and institutions to change their attitude to a more supportive and open minded approach.
“It’s important for families to provide a supportive environment at home and support in her treatment plan. Non addicts also need to learn communication skills, such as avoiding critical or harsh comments and not to be judgmental as this can frustrate her and precipitate her relapse,” she added.
Yahya Al Riamy, Senior Staff Nurse at the Executive Office of the NCNPS, added: “Only one percent of women seek treatment. That one percent is considered a very weak number. They fear society knowing they are addicts. Before, we used to have a designated day for women to come in freely to Al Massarah for treatment, but there was still a low turnout. A lot of people either don’t know that there is a treatment centre and that it is also confidential,” Riamy said.
“In the National Strategy Plan, we have planned for Ibn Sina to be renovated into an addiction centre. The treatment centre before was only for men, but we have already planned for a complete wing for women, and we are expecting to receive more women when it’s open,” Riamy said.
“We can educate and understand that addiction is a disease. We cannot just punish the addict, we must also help them. It is a chronic problem which requires long treatment. Some people stay for as long as six months in the facility. Society must encourage addicts to stay on the path of recovery, and help guide the addict to seek treatment. Some people are unaware that treatment exists. Many addicts face resistance from society. This is because society is not trying to help them. We need society to help. People must learn to accept them as they are trying to help themselves in recovery. If society would welcome the addict and support him or her, the addict would be much stronger,” Riamy added