The emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the country's decades-old fight against narcotics abuse and this has made the capital city of Male' a hot spot for individuals suffering from substance abuse, heavily intoxicated, and often times near-incoherent.

The COVID pandemic was observed to have a huge impact on individuals suffering from substance abuse. With prolonged periods of lockdowns and curfews, difficulty in procuring drugs caused such individuals to go through severe withdrawal symptoms, resulting in extreme psychological and physiological distress which in some cases resulted in being fatal.

Many drug addicts are seen on the streets of Male' begging for money and meals while others have been forced to break the sanctity of mosques to find shelter.

Drug addicts found resting in mosques

The rising number of drug addicts on the streets of Male' and beyond shows one single truth, the government organization tasked with finding a better future for these struggling individuals has failed miserably in performing its tasks.

Maybe that the National Drug Agency (NDA) itself is in need of desperate treatment before it can take charge of any other.

National Drug Agency and its purpose

The National Drug Agency (NDA) was established under the Drug Law, passed by the Parliament in 2011. The new law's focus, which also established a specialist Court, is to move away from taking a punitive approach against “small scale” drug offenses. The legislation makes provisions for the prevention of the use, peddling, and trafficking of drugs while providing measures to motivate drug-dependent persons to enroll in treatment and rehabilitation programs to facilitate their reintegration into the community as responsible citizens.

Failure to establish Narcotics Drug Act 17/2011

Over the years the National Drug Agency (NDA) has failed in strengthening strategic treatment methods for individuals in or seeking recovery. The Agencies failure in successfully establishing the six types of treatment facilities mandated by the Narcotic Drugs Act, introduced in December 2011, has led to several addicts, and recovering addicts retaliating against NDA.

Under the act, NDA was given an 18-month period to set up a detoxification center, a drug treatment and rehabilitation center, a children's drug and rehabilitation center, a women's drug and rehabilitation center, a halfway house, and a drug offender remand center. However, despite the lapse of nine years following the implementation of the act, NDA is yet to establish the drug offender remand center.

Considering recent developments, a detox camp “Heyhan Vehi” was organized by the NDA with the association of NGOs Journey, SAFE, and Hands together. It was a one-month camp that was mainly managed by the recovering addicts of the Maldives, which successfully helped 40 addicts to become clean and get back into society.

parliament speaker visit to heyhan vehi camp

Although this was a very well-initiated program, many claimed that NDA failed to abide by their contracts with the NGOs by failing to pay those who worked in detox camps following completion of their contracts. Further outcries were observed through protestors and organized small demonstrations on Anti-Drug Day highlighting NDA’s failure and neglect in providing necessary treatment for addicts and those in recovery. These demonstrations were held in front of the parliament, Drug court, presidents' office as well as NDA.

Member of Parliament Representing Machchangolhi South constituency Ahmed Haitham had sponsored and submitted the “Change NDA petition” with 1050 signatures to the parliament. The petition is being reviewed by the Petition Committee. The petition was submitted to Haitham by the NGO Handstogether to reform NDA. Currently, the Petition committee Reviewed Change NDA 2020 petition and decided to visit the K.Himmafushi drug rehabilitation center and to meet the relevant authorities.

In need of a National Drug Strategy

The growing dependency on substances has had a vastly negative impact on the youth of the Maldives bringing about psychosocial as well as socio-economic issues. Drug rehabilitation services are limited as there is only one detoxification center in the Maldives, located in Himmafushi which provides treatment, which is inadequate considering the rapidly growing number of individuals suffering from substance abuse.

Ali adyb internationally certified addiction professional & global drug demand reduction trainer

Ali Adeeb, Internationally Certified Addiction Professional & Global Drug Demand Reduction Trainer states that the NDA is an implementation agency; its mandate is to implement national drug strategies approved by the National Drug Control Council and without such a strategy NDA has been providing inconsistent and outdated non-evidence-based services.

For a better tomorrow, it is best to have a National Drug strategy as it will allow us to work responsibly as well as have objectives and inputs on how to evaluate and monitor.”
Ali Adeeb

Hope for NDA under Health Ministry

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih/ Photo: President's Office

In May of this year, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih took the decision of moving the National Drug Agency under the Health Ministry, to maybe satisfy those calling for the agency's reform.

The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services previously oversaw the functioning of NDA and the decision to move may prove beneficial to the agency and its reform.

Under the Ministry, the agency could be given a hefty budget and it can get its hands on more resources while under the Health Ministry.

But then again, the Health Ministry is the government ministry responsible for the fight against the COVID pandemic, overseeing critical organizations like the Health Protection Agency HPA and the Health Emergency Operations Center HEOC.

This is reason enough to question whether the Ministry can afford to divert resources and personal to NDA and begin its much-needed reform.