Royal Oman Police (ROP) kicked off a drug awareness campaign last week in a bid to combat the rising abuse but lack of transparency and scarcity of rehabilitation centres are two factors that defeat the fight against addiction.
Transparency, of having a database of people addicted to drugs available to the public, is one of the most important factors in winning the battle against the menace. Treatment of drug users is another factor. According to the Ministry of Health, the success rate of treating addicts in Oman is only 20 per cent. This is due to lack of comprehensive rehabilitation centres.
Al Massara Psychiatric Hospital is the only one in Oman that seriously treats drug addiction but the facility has only 245 beds. Sketchy figures from different hospitals show that about 3,500 people are addicted to drugs but nobody knows the true extent of the malaise. Drug use clearly can be connected to crimes. Yet in Oman, there are no statistics to show the percentage of how many offences in the country can be tied up with narcotics offenders.
Not the Burden of law enforcement alone
The ROP from time to time spreads awareness in its effort to educate the public about the problem. Its current drive is focused on sticking messages on children trolleys in all malls to drive the message home to parents who use drugs. But the burden of the campaign against drugs should not be confined to the law enforcement agency alone. Other government institutions must come onboard to help. Both, the ministries of education and higher education must start their own separate campaigns since a bigger percentage of abusers are young people.
All the evidences show that drug dealers target school children by giving free samples to them. They also hang around in the universities and colleges. The two areas of education are a soft target for drug sellers. The alarming thing is the fact that the dropout rate of both school as well as degree students is high. Once again, there are no statistics to breakdown how many of them stop their education in the middle due to drug offences. To combat drug infiltration in the education system is a matter of national interest and it must receive a high priority because these institutions produce future leaders and intellectuals.
The ministry of health also plays an important role in the drive to control drug use. Victims of drug abuse and violence always end up in hospitals. Yet, the ministry has only sketchy statistics, some thing which needed for the assessment of the problem in the first place. For example, there are no records of domestic abuses, street brawls, road accidents and other violence that are committed by drug addicts. Those who end up in Al Massara Psychiatric Hospital mostly do it on voluntary basis. Oman needs a map of drug addiction for the members of the public to know how to deal with it. To say only a few thousands who are hooked on drugs while tens of thousands may out there needing help is a catastrophe of a national level waiting to happen.
Since drug abuse does not distinguish people by age groups or income brackets, it is set to become widespread. In other countries which have solid statistics, the unemployed are more vulnerable to drug abuse compared to those who are working. The bad news is that Oman has both a bigger percentage of youth and the country has a fair share of unemployment, too. These two facts cannot be underestimated. Statistics and transparency are also needed for those who fought off addiction successfully. They are the beacons of hope for those who are deep into it.
If there is to be any prospect that the “war on drugs” can be fought to a successful conclusion, vigilance on our borders must be increased too. Oman has the longest coastline among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. More than half of the narcotic substances come in through the sea. ROP needs the right tools to patrol the long coastline and land borders. However, the battle against drug addiction has many frontiers. An accurate database of drug users and openness that there is a serious problem is a good start.