Many Maldivians are still failing to understand the difference between drug abuse and addiction, with the full scale of narcotics use in the country yet to come to light, UNICEF’s resident representative said today.
The comments by Zeba Tanvir Bukhari were made during the launch of a new toll-free helpline for local people and communities affected by the trade of illegal drugs in the country.
Speaking this morning at a ceremony at Dharubaaruge to unveil the hotline, alongside representatives from the Ministry of Health and Family and President Mohamed Nasheed, Bukhari said that EU-funded programme was designed to offer drug users support in trying to overcome addiction.
“The helpline will be able to tell if one has an addiction problem or not. Most people are not able to substantiate between abuse and addiction,” she said. “The information provided by the helpline will be highly effective for enabling many to recognise the symptoms [of addiction] in order to seek proper relief measures. It can help in referring people to an intervention programme for drug abuse and HIV/AIDs-related treatment, support and care.”
The launch of the toll-free service coincided with the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking and represents a collaboration between the UN, the EU, Maldivian health authorities, local telecoms providers like Wataniya and the government.
The service, which can be accessed by dialling the number 1410 locally, was inaugurated by President Nasheed who spoke with a counsellor via a video screen during today’s promotional launch event.
Outside of the hotline launch, the president has vowed to crackdown on the country’s illegal narcotics trade in a week that has seen police arrested a suspected high-profile drugs kingpin. This pledge was itself followed by local media reports of further security crackdowns on shipments at the Maldives’ main shipping ports by the armed forces.
As part of attempts to try and help tackle drug issues at both international and community level, Unicef Resident Representative Bukhari said that although the new helpline would actively try and provide assistance for Maldivians struggling with the effects of drug use, it would be open to anyone who was concerned with issues relating to potential addiction.
“The helpline can guide an individual through specific problems such as avoiding risk factors that that can pose a relapse. The helpline isn’t only for problem drug users, but for co-dependents, family and friends or professionals seeking support in other forms,” she added.
Scale of the problem
According to statistics from a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) study released just last week, 210 million people aged between 15 to 64 years of age –almost five per cent of the world’s population – were believed to have tried illegal drugs or other “illicit” substances at least once during 2010.
Although official figures are not presently available regarding drug use and levels of addiction in the Maldives, Bukhari claimed that the first ever scientifically rigorous drug-use study to be conducted in the Maldives was currently underway. Once published, she said the report was expected to provide a true picture of the scale of drug dependency facing people aged between 15 to 64 living in the country.