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Wednesday, 04 August 2021

Fighting addiction in Egypt: Dialing a new life

Two months ago, Egypt’s cabinet approved a draft law that mandates drug tests for state employees, with possible termination for those who test positive or evade it

Nesmahar Sayed , Thursday 15 Jul 2021
FDCTA
Officials from The Fund for Drug Control and Treatment of Addiction (FDCTA) with youth volunteers pose for an image during training camp which promote volunteering and raise awareness about drugs. Al-Ahram
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“A total of 63,540 patients benefited from 16023, the hotline of the National Fund for Drug Control and Treatment of Addiction, Amr Osman, director of the National Fund for Drug Control and Treatment of Addiction and assistant to the minister of social solidarity, said.

“From the free treatment service provided by the fund from January 2021 to June 2021, we know that 1,669 of the patients are from slum areas,” Osman said.

Two months ago, Egypt’s cabinet approved a draft law that mandates drug tests for state employees, with possible termination for those who test positive or evade it.

According to a cabinet statement, the bill requires prospective and existing employees at ministries, state companies, local authorities, and other state bodies to undergo a drug test before being hired, promoted, awarded a contract, or having their contract renewed.

A drug law will be implemented by the beginning of 2022. An employee who seeks treatment through the fund is considered a patient and will apply for free and confidential treatment. But those who are tested without being asked and are proved to be drug abusers will be faced with legal consequences that may result in termination. 

One of the many who benefited from the hotline and is in the process of recovery is Ahmed Sami, 33. Sami told the Weekly that he has been an addict since he was 12 and that dialing 16023 was his first step to recovery. “As a patient at Al-Azeema Addiction Centre in Marsa Matrouh governorate, I have been clean for 63 days.”

Egypt’s Liverpool football superstar Mohamed Salah is not just an icon but the star of the ‘You are Stronger than Drugs Campaign’.

Hassanin Ahmed, 27, told the Weekly that he was the first to know about 16023 in the Bashayer Al-Kheir housing project, where hundreds of families from slums have been relocated. His mother saw Salah’s photo on the campaign poster and told the doctor in the clinic about her son, an addict. The doctor told them about 16023 and later Ahmed told all his friends and started going to rehab.

Ahmed Al-Sayed, 40, said that Salah’s campaign led him to 16023, and that he has been off drugs for three months and is being treated at Al-Mamoura Hospital in Alexandria. “A patient should follow all the rules after recovery so as not to relapse,” Al-Sayed said.

“The Mohamed Salah campaign was wide reaching among young people, not just in Egypt but worldwide,” Osman said. “The five campaigns we launched were translated into five languages. There were over 40 million views on social media, and the number of followers of the fund’s social media jumped from 5,000 to two million,” Osman said.

The most recent campaign resulted in a four-fold increase in the volume of calls to 16023. The hotline received 28,000 calls in May and June. A total of 1,712 females asked for treatment. Calls from mothers and other family members came in second place after patients.

“The main message of the campaign was that drugs may make you happy at the beginning, but you lose everything in the end.” “The message was short and shocking,” one patient who sought anonymity told the Weekly and how the message affected him after he dialed 16023.  

According to Osman, the importance of the hotline is not just offering free treatment for patients but that the calls help in other steps towards decreasing the demand for drugs and drawing up a plan for more success and more efficiency for the fund.

“During the last six months, 55 percent of addicts were unemployed while 44.83 percent worked in the private and public sectors. The major reasons for addiction according to the results of the hotline are bad company, family struggles, misconceptions of medication, and relating drugs to sexual ability.

“All the calls are received through an electronic application including the data of the callers. The data helps 16023 personnel to launch treatment centres in the needed governorates, knowing the most used drugs and the age in which people start drug abuse. The data helps in drawing up a map of addicted patients and helps in developing confrontation policy,” Osman added.

It is important to engage in dialogue with the creators of TV series. That was the message of an initiative presented at a World Health Organisation meeting in India and adopted in many countries, according to Osman.

In 2014, the fund began to monitor addiction and recovery in highly popular Ramadan television dramas. It was found that topics on drug addiction accounted for 13 percent of content.

In Ramadan this year, the figure dropped to four percent for smoking and one percent for addiction, however, there were excessive scenes showing the drinking of alcohol in the series Naguib Zahi Zarkash. Females appeared smoking in 15 percent of the show, although the percentage in reality is 1.5 percent. Additionally, some shows were promoting vaping.

On the other hand, in this year’s Ramadan dramas, 23 percent of scenes showed the effects of drug abuse. Minors were not present in any scenes in which people were abusing drugs. And more scenes highlighted the treatment of drug abuse without emphasising the abuse itself.

A patient who preferred to remain anonymous told the Weekly that he used all kinds of drugs. He said smoking is the first step on the road to addiction for most people, then alcohol, hash, and pills, after which a person feels that he or she has reached rock bottom. He added: “Television dramas and bad company encourage youth to try smoking, then other drugs follow.”

Volunteering

FDCTA

The Fund for Drug Control and Treatment of Addiction (FDCTA) launched a training camp to promote volunteering and raise awareness about drug abuse for university students in different governorates.

The FDCTA, chaired by Minister of Social Solidarity Nevine El-Qabaj, in cooperation with the Leadership Development Institute (LDI) in Helwan, launched a training camp for youth volunteer leaders across the country under the banner “Ambassadors of volunteering; You are Stronger Than Drugs” to promote volunteer work and combat drug abuse. The event was attended by Amr Osman, assistant to the Minister of Social Solidarity and director of FDCTA, and LDI Director Karim Hamam.

The four-day training camp was attended by 200 youth from various Egyptian universities and higher education institutions and aims to invest the positive energy of youth and train them to become leaders of volunteer work.

The programme will also increase the knowledge and skills of young people to turn down drugs. A group of young leaders will be selected to lead volunteer work in different governorates and implement field initiatives of direct interaction with the public to inform them about FDCTA and its preventative and treatment services. Also, to field any questions about drug addiction and treatment by calling the hotline 16023.

El-Qabaj said the vetting process for the selected group includes being interviewed by the FDCTA and training in problem-solving skills, self-esteem skills, positive thinking, and communication, as well as on how to communicate with their peers to persuade drug addicts to seek help by calling the hotline to receive free and confidential treatment.

Osman said youth leaders are being trained in the cognitive content of addiction, drug abuse, its types and effects, as well as mistaken ideas and beliefs and causes of addiction and how to prevent it. The top cadres are selected to form new volunteer units and are trained to represent the FDCTA at youth events on tour, at exploratory meetings, and all FDCTA activities and events.

Youths will also be trained on managing volunteer work and how to prepare and host volunteer events to combat drug abuse, in order to prepare a young generation able to shoulder the responsibility and make good decisions in combating drug abuse as part of the Egypt 2030 vision.

Osman said the camp will also train youths on planning programmes, finding solutions, and community work to raise awareness about drug abuse.

The camp is the beginning of a series of training camps to recruit 1,000 new young leaders to the FDCTA volunteer family, which has now reached 31,000 volunteer members.

Safe travels

FDCTA volunteers
volunteers speaking with a commuter in order to increase the public awareness about the dangers of drugs metro stations.

The FDCTA also launched a new initiative called ‘Safe Travels’ in cooperation with the Egyptian Company for Metro Management and Operation to raise public awareness about the dangers of abuse and addiction to narcotics on all three metro lines.

El-Qabaj said the initiative aims to raise awareness about the dangers of drug abuse for everyone and shed light on the services provided by the FDCTA’s hotline 16023. Also, the role of family in the early discovery of drug abuse and recovery steps at treatment centres partnering with the hotline.

So far, the FDCTA has 27 centres across 17 governorates.

Osman said the campaign will last for three months. There are many FDCTA volunteers to raise awareness among metro commuters and inform them about the hotline services which treat drug addicts for free and with strict confidentiality, as well as informing them about new types of drugs and early detection methods of drug abuse and handling drug addicts.

The campaign also aims to focus on the harmful effects of abusing narcotics and correcting misinformation that drugs stimulate memory, help forget one’s troubles, and other mistaken beliefs held by some. Volunteers and experts explain the goals of the FDTCA campaign to the public and youth through direct interactions with the public of all ages and walks of life.

They field questions about addiction, prevention, and early detection of drug abuse.

Drug-free village

FDCTA  volunteer
volunteer speaking with village residents to increase awareness about the risks of drug abuse as a part of “Drug-Free Village” initiative. Al-Ahram

The ‘Drug-Free Village Initiative’ was also launched by the FDCTA and has reached ten governorates so far to raise awareness on the dangers of drug abuse.

The campaign includes preventive measures and family counseling on early detection, handling addiction cases and contacting the hotline 16023.

El-Qabaj has given directives to continue awareness campaigns about preventing addiction by raising the awareness of village residents, especially youths and teenagers, as well as training youths in life skills to protect them against drug abuse. The campaign also focuses on promoting awareness and the education of families to enable the community to confront drug abuse.

These interventions rely on direct interaction with families in villages and training youths from the community to participate in awareness efforts on the dangers of drug abuse. House visits are also included in the campaign to alert families about the dangers of the issue, while taking all necessary precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Counseling, psychiatric support, and treatment services for any addiction cases are also provided free of charge through the FDCTA’s hotline.

FDCTA Director Osman said the initiative is expanding to include effective and creative measures for early detection of drug abuse, as well as sustainable campaigns to achieve drug-free villages and drug-free institutions. It also provides rehabilitation and social services, as well as economic empowerment for current and recovered drug addicts to ensure their treatment continues and to facilitate their reintegration into society.

Osman said the initiative will reach villages in a number of governorates and includes a programme to raise the awareness of all schoolchildren in these villages about the dangers of drug abuse during the academic year and build their life skills so they can refuse drugs.

The campaign also informs civil servants about the dangers of drug abuse as part of the ‘For Your Own Good Initiative’, which also targets drivers and artisans with activities and programmes that are appropriate for everyone.

Osman said the initiative was implemented in many villages across ten governorates, including Minya, Assiut, Sohag, Beheira, Menoufiya, Kafr El-Sheikh, Daqahliya, Giza, Qena, and Aswan.

He added that the campaign has reached 73 villages so far, and several activities took place with the participation of local FDCTA volunteers who were trained on the awareness programmes under the fund’s supervision. There will also be training camps to recruit and educate local youth volunteers, and a sports tournament for youth under the banner ‘You are Stronger than Drugs’.

*This story was first published in Ahram Weekly

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