By mid-December will begin the implementation of legislation allowing the dismissal of state employees if they test positive for drugs. The Fund for Drug Control and Treatment of Addiction (FDCTA), headed by Minister of Social Solidarity Nevine Al-Qabbaj, published an infographic on its official Facebook page about the findings of the committee for detecting drug abuse among state employees. Some 400,000 employees were tested between March 2019-August 2021 across the country.
Qabbaj reviewed a report on drug abuse among state employees, which showed that drug abuse dropped from eight per cent to 1.5 per cent since the start of the testing campaign. Anyone who asks for treatment voluntarily is considered a patient and receives free and confidential treatment. Otherwise, by mid-December legislation will be enforced to fire employees who test positive. The new legislation allowed for a six-month grace period before implementation once the president signed it into law, which gave employees who are addicted to seek treatment without facing criminal charges. Since, around 8,275 telephone calls were made to Hotline 16023 by state employees seeking treatment for drug addiction.
The report also revealed that the most common drugs are hashish, tramadol and heroin. Qabbaj gave directives to continue testing campaigns, and anyone who tests positive will face criminal charges as per the orders of the president and cabinet, as part of a plan to create safe work environments that are free of drugs.
School bus drivers are also being closely tested and monitored during the academic year, to ensure they are not abusing drugs.
FDCTA Director and Assistant to the minister of social solidarity Amr Osman said that unannounced testing caravans are expanding and several interventions among state employees were held by directly reaching out to target groups through awareness sessions about the dangers of drug abuse, and the implementation of the new legislation. Over the past five months, the focus of 285 events for state employees across 20 governorates was to motivate those who desire treatment to seek help, before the law comes into force and they lose their jobs.
An informational video was also published titled “Know Your Rights and Responsibilities Under the Drug Testing Law” which was watched by nearly seven million viewers on social media. There were also television interviews to inform about the new law and how to contest a verdict, but also asserting that the new legislation aims to protect the innocent.
Osman added that drug testing campaigns among state employees are on the rise, in cooperation with the Forensic Medicine Department and the General Secretariat of Mental Health for State Employees, especially among staff that interact with the public. Coordination is also underway among all government departments across the country to provide FDCTA with data on the number of employees and their locations, in order to send out testing caravans there. A communications officer is chosen on site to facilitate testing there.
Qabbaj said that in the first nine months of 2021, the FDCTA provided treatment for 102,407 drug addicts and those in remission who were referred from the Hotline. They were treated at 27 FDCTA rehabilitation centres and hospitals partnering with Hotline 16023 in 17 governorates. Services included consultations, psychiatric support, treatment and rehabilitation according to international standards.
Some 4,914 patients from new housing developments that have replaced slum areas received treatment; of these, 94.46 per cent of patients were males and 5.54 per cent females. These neighbourhoods include Asmarat, Mahrousa, Rawdet Al-Sayeda, Bashayer Al-Kheir, Al-Dawahi district in Port Said and other areas that will be developed such as Sobhi Hussein, Antar Stable, Ezbet Kheirallah in Cairo, Karmouz and Gheit El-Enab in Alexandria.
Qabbaj added that most calls to the Hotline came from Cairo at 33.69 per cent of calls, followed by Giza at 12.42 per cent. This is due to their large populations, ease of communication and proximity to hospitals that partner with the Hotline. It was revealed that the most informative medium to learn about the Hotline was through television advertisement campaigns, followed by the Internet and the FDCTA’s website, direct interaction with visitors and receiving patients who are referred by friends.
Osman explained that information from the Hotline is recorded on an electronic form about callers, which helps the FDCTA decide where to establish rehab centres and reveals the most popular drugs among callers, the age they began abusing drugs and other data that helps to decide on anti-drug policy.
He added that the data of callers in the first nine months of 2021 showed that addiction mostly began at a young age for them, whereby 45.17 per cent of them began between the ages of 15 and 20; 33.92 per cent were between 20 and 30 years old; while 14.21 per cent were less than 15 years old. The most popular drugs among callers are hashish at a rate of 45.17 per cent; heroin at 41.91 per cent; tramadol at 33.17 per cent; astrox and voodoo at 12.63 per cent; as well as others that abuse multiple drugs.
Some 55.86 per cent of callers to the Hotline are unemployed and 44.14 per cent work in the private and public sectors. Meanwhile, queries by state employees mostly focused on the confidentiality of information, legal action and deadline for implementing the new legislation.
Osman continued that causes of drug abuse according to the Hotline data are bad company, curiosity, family problems, misconceptions about health issues and virility, as well as pursuing pleasure. The reasons for seeking treatment included poor health, family problems, concern for offspring, death of a relative, financial unsustainability, work problems, family pressure or a drug-related incident.
In the wake of recent awareness campaigns and door to door initiative, contact was mostly made by patients themselves, then mothers, and then siblings. The campaigns nurtured the confidence of patients and their kin in the services of the Hotline, which increased the number of recovered addicts. It also shows that families now have greater awareness and play a role in guiding their members to treatment. As a result, 38 young men and three females submitted to treatment.
Between September 2020 and September 2021, some 108,000 visits among door to door initiative were made to raise the awareness of families about the dangers of drug abuse in new housing developments. In fact, 88 per cent of those who asked for treatment were informed through door to door initiative which is a positive effect of direct interaction. Viral tests for diseases that accompany drug abuse, such as Hepatitis B and C and AIDs, are also provided.
Also, two hundred residents in these areas were chosen to train as volunteers to raise awareness against drugs, and hold storytelling workshops on drug abuse through creative activities which benefited 9,000 residents in new developments. Another 700 children attended workshops about the dangers of smoking tobacco.
Qabbaj said many awareness campaigns are underway in new developments, especially for youth and teenagers to improve their life skills, and raise family awareness which helps society protect against drug abuse. Door to door initiative will continue in these areas with the aim of creating a culture that rejects drugs, while sustaining these initiatives relies on training organic leadership who are residents there. These local leaders are trained in prevention mechanisms, early detection, and communication skills to spread the word among their peers. This enhances community participation among youth in these areas, and develops messages that are appropriate for each target group based on the FDCTA’s scientific module.
Osman noted that four new clinics were opened in these areas, where patients are then referred to rehab centres, and the FDCTA’s work will continue to expand into more new housing developments.
To raise more awareness, the FDCTA published an informational video on its official Facebook page about the dangers of the drug shabu (methamphetamine) and its impact on brain cells.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 October , 2021 edition of Al- Ahram Weekly