Addiction in Oman

About 30% of clients coming to Hope Trust are from overseas. Hope Trust offers an intensive treatment program for those affected by alcoholism, drug addiction, drug abuse, gambling and dual diagnosis. Its multi-cultural approach is ideally suited for providing effective treatment for addictions, whatever country or region the person comes from.

Of these, a significant number come from Sultanate of Oman. The first client who came from Oman was a 24 year old addict, son of a senior government official. He stayed for over four months and has since remained clean and sober. Subsequently, the same client’s uncle came for treatment of alcoholism - he too has remained sober since.

Slowly, word spread about the effective treatment provided at Hope Trust. Several addicts started coming and over the years Hope Trust has treated more than 50 addicts from Sultanate of Oman.

Oman is part of a region described as the Near and Mid-East. As part of this designation, Oman contributes a rather small share of the estimated 8 to 11 million cannabis users in the region and the estimated 2 to 4 million opiate users. Historically, Oman has been a fairly small consumer market for drugs being trafficked internationally.

Sitting on the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman, not far from the world's largest heroin trafficking channels, Oman has been largely exempt from the problems seen in Europe and the Americas. In 1994, Oman reported 200 people addicted to sedatives, 150 people addicted to hashish and 60 people addicted to heroin. Methadone was brought into the country in the early 1990s, as a treatment program for opiate addiction, but it was later discontinued.

By 2008, Oman was seeing a large increase in the quantity of cannabis resin (hashish) seizures. Increase in seizures indicates there is increase in supply followed by increases in numbers of those addicted to the drugs being trafficked.

In Oman, many drugs come from the region and other countries like morphine and heroin are very common and these are very hard core drugs. With the manifold increase in narcotics production worldwide during the past one decade in particular, the smuggling of morphine and heroin has increased substantially.

Drug abuse cases have doubled in recent times in Oman. By December 2011, as many as 3,000 cases of drug abuse were registered by the Royal Oman Police (ROP). Moreover, many cases of drug abuse go unregistered. A majority of the drug addicts in Oman are teenagers, including school and college students.

Drug addiction is not limited to males. According to official sources around 35 cases of drug abuse by women were registered in 2011 as compared to 25 in 2010. And the age of persons getting addicted is getting lower, with many of them being school and college students.

During 2012, as many as 2,100 people were arrested for drug trafficking, as against 1,417 in 2010, and 1,048 in 2009. A large quantity of hashish, heroin, opium, morphine, khat and pills has been seized in these raids. Oman seems to be emerging as a transit point for drug trafficking.

In 2009, 19 people died due to drug abuse and the number of crimes related to drug use was climbing, increasing in a few years from 78 to 688.

These are official figures, and as is normally the case, the actual figure is likely to be significantly higher.

What is encouraging to see that amongst the Gulf countries, the Sultanate of Oman has acknowledged that there is a big drug addiction problem in the country and has taken several proactive steps to address the issue. I visited the new psychiatric hospital Al Massara in Al A'mirat in Oman's Muscat Governate. Al Massarah is a modern 245-bed. The hospital has60 beds dedicated to treatment of addicts. However, I am told that even this is not adequate and there is often a long waiting list. The ‘treatment’ at Al Massarah hospital is only for two weeks, which means it is limited to detox – that means withdrawal management. After that, the patient is discharged and it is no wonder that the relapse rate is very high.

This was acknowledged by Dr. Mahmoud Al-Abri, the then Director of the institute. He is an addictionologist and is deeply committed to the cause of addiction in Oman.

Subsequently, the Government of Oman set up a nodal agency to focus on the addiction problem and he is now the Director of the National Committee of Narcotics and Psychotropic Affairs.
Rehabilitation in Oman

Under the guidance of Dr. Mahmoud Al-Abri and his colleagues in the Ministry of Health and the Royal Oman Police, Oman is setting up a comprehensive rehab program beginning in Muscat. The committee is building 8 villas by refurbishing part of the old Al Massrah hospital and it will house over 60 patients who will undergo a long term intensive rehabilitation
program so that the addicts are properly integrated into the society with minimum relapses. For this, the committee is sending counsellors for training abroad, most probably to Hope Trust in India.

Hope Trust therapists have been to Oman several times. The team has initiated the fellowships of Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and it is heartening to see the fellowship grow so well in the country. Hope Trust has also encouraged Al-anon family groups, but it works in fits and starts.

Hope Trust is also in dialogue with various agencies in the Sultanate for addressing the addiction problem in the country – the ROP (Royal Oman Police), the National Committee for Psychotropic Affairs, NGOs (most notably Al Hayat) and individuals.

Meanwhile, Hope Trust continues to support treatment for addicts by admitting clients who approach the rehab in India directly and come for the highly successful addiction treatment program offered at its facility in Hyderabad.

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Rahul Luther