Looking at the Hard, Cold Reality of Drug Abuse in Egypt with Dr Abdel Nasser Omar
Whether we choose to be in denial about the ever-present threat of drug and substance abuse in our community, or feel at a loss as to how to tackle it, the time to face the facts is here. Professor Dr. Abdel Nasser Omar, Prof. of Psychiatry, Ain Shams University and CEO of Al Masha Hospital is confronted daily by the rapidly evolving patterns of drug use in all sectors of society and shares his expert findings with Cairo West Magazine.
CWM: Dr. Abdel Nasser, how serious is the issue of addiction in Egypt?
AO: It is considered that 25% of the Egyptian population has tried drugs of some sort. Of those, 10% are currently using substances of some sort. That means approximately 9 million Egyptians are using substances of some sort on a regular basis. Of those, around half a million people can be considered real addicts. This is a real problem.
Is there enough public awareness about the dangers of drug use, and which age groups and social sectors are most at risk?
In the past, a concerted effort was made to increase awareness with students in the 16-17 years age group. Youth exposure to drugs has evolved rapidly to the point that many 12-13 year-olds are now habitual users of hash and other drugs. Starting from primary school, we even find children as young as 9 years in a high-risk group.
The second important sector is amongst workers, and taxi, bus, and truck drivers. There is such widespread abuse of hash and Tramadol that they are not actually considered to be drugs by many users in this group.
We also consider universities and colleges to be vulnerable areas for drug abuse. It is obvious that public awareness has to be increased across the board, everyone is vulnerable, nobody can be considered immune. In truth, awareness is not enough; we need to be able to fight the actual use. Most people come to use drugs out of curiosity; they must be made aware of the dangers involved in even trying something once. The results can be catastrophic.
Which drugs are most commonly used and how does the road to addiction usually start?
The most prevalent drugs are marijuana and hash. In many social circles hash is not even considered addictive or haram. This attitude in itself is a serious issue. In psychiatry hash is considered dangerous as many psychological problems can develop through its use. It also is a common gateway to the use of other drugs, following the smoking of cigarettes and marijuana. From the start, we must fight the use of cigarettes and shisha as well, especially in public places. Parents are far too permissive with their young ones when it comes to this. The natural progression from cigarettes and shisha to hash, then hard drugs and psychedelic substances is well recorded and all too common. Alcohol poses another problem, although it has become more socially accepted. Young people especially are prone to drink more than they can handle, they are not able to regulate its use to certain social situations and run the risk of it becoming a habit.
Tramadol and Tramal are widely used by all levels of society, with hard drugs like heroin cocaine, crystal meth that are all expensive hence used primarily by the wealthier upper-classes. Through having the financial means, these drugs, along with alcohol and the risk of alcoholism pose a particular danger to this sector of the community.
Are there particular personality types that are more prone to addiction?
We are not all prone to addiction. Statistically out of 100 people, 16 will try drugs, 4 of those will become regular users, and one of those will become an addict. Genetic background and family circumstances certainly increase the possibility of a person becoming an addict or user, but no-one is immune, irrespective of age or social environment.
There are certain personality disorders like borderline personality disorder, histrionic, anti-social, and narcissistic types who, by nature, are impulsive, reckless, curious and prone to experiment. These are more likely to be drawn to trying drugs. Again, it is the responsibility of the parents to monitor and guide their children, to be more involved and follow up on them. This will be an important step.
Do many drug habits start with over-the-counter or prescribed medications?
Unfortunately many people use over-the-counter medications simply because they see that a family member or friend has been prescribed this, and think that they can self-medicate, based on that. This is dangerous and can lead to serious complications as well as being a path to addiction. When medications are prescribed, it should be for a very specific time period and under strict medical supervision.
How can families be alert to drug abuse within the home?
Parents in particular should be alert to subtle personality changes in their children. They may see a disturbed sleep pattern, a change in eating habits, weight loss, fighting at school or in other social encounters, as well as other distinct personality changes. The individual may become more aggressive, edgy, irritable and show less consideration or respect towards other family members. If they drive, there could be a tendency to have more accidents as well.
What professional support is readily available?
There is a strong network of support available to help at all stages and levels of a drug problem. This includes sociologists, psychiatrists, social workers, psychologist and religious experts. It is important for the family to be involved, to work alongside and to be an integral part of the process. This is also why the development of public awareness is critical.
How is treatment carried out, and what is the success rate?
Treatment is carried out according to the state of the addiction. If it is caught early enough it is often possible to stop the drug use through counselling and support. If the addiction is firmly entrenched it usually means that hospital admission is required. This involves steps to curb the addiction and manage the withdrawal, along with therapy to help the patient readjust to a normal lifestyle. In many cases there are serious personality disorders that have to be addressed. There is often a type of substance abuse psychosis, where the patient may become suspicious, possessive and jealous, with a strong paranoid disorder.
In all cases, it is vital for the patient to develop a good coping mechanism for living without drugs, and not merely to undergo treatment for withdrawal symptoms.
Bio: Dr. Abd EL Nasser Omar
Professor of Psychiatry Ain Shams University
CEO of Al Mashfa Hospital
(As per previous article) Photo has been received.
Contact details for Al Mashfa to be added to the address book.