"After three years of heroin abuse, I finally see hope," says Abdul as he marks his fifth day at a drug detoxification centre in Villi Male island, Maldives. Abdul is 26 and started using drugs three years ago in Sri Lanka, where he attended university. As drugs took over his life, he abandoned his studies and returned home to Male, the capital of Maldives. "No one in my family knew about my habit. It was like a secret disease that I was trying to get rid of," he says. "Three months ago I went to the local hospital and they suggested I enroll in their detoxification programme, but I did not have medical insurance. Then, my wife found out, and just as I was wondering what to do next, her brother-in-law told me about the '1410' drug helpline."
On 26 June, as part of activities to mark World Drug Day, President Mohamed Nasheed of Maldives launched 1410, a free national toll drug helpline operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The helpline aims to provide community members, especially in the remote islands of Maldives, with accurate information related to substance use and the various drug treatment, care and associated support services available in a confidential and professional manner. Launched as a collaboration between UNODC, the Department of Drug Prevention and Rehabilitation Services, the Government of Maldives and local telecom companies, the helpline is targeted at the general community, with a special focus on drug users seeking treatment and their families.
Abdul says that he was hesitant at first to give out his personal details when he called because he had always been discreet about his drug use: "However, when I called the helpline, the counsellor was very helpful. She gave me information about the different treatment options available, such as detoxification, rehabilitation and oral substitution therapy, and encouraged me to visit them at the Department of Drug Prevention and Rehabilitation Services. I went to meet them and opted for the 21-day detox programme, which I am now taking."
The helpline is operated by 12 volunteer counsellors from the Department of Drug Prevention and Rehabilitation Services, working on a daily rotational basis, all with prior drug counselling experience and fluent in English and the Maldivian language, Divehi. "We have to answer the call within two rings," says Ahmed Firaaq, an experienced counsellor with the Department. "We screen the callers, assess their requirements and give them information or direct them to appropriate services. We receive numerous calls from people who want to quit drugs, as well as teachers and professionals who would like to know how to identify and assist drug users."
A helpline like 1410 is critical in a country like Maldives, which comprises hundreds of islands and where drug use is on the rise. "This is an excellent initiative," says Aishath Mohamed, the programme manager of the non-governmental organization Society for Women Against Drugs. "We can reach out to a large number of people through the helpline, including parents and young people. However, the helpline needs more advertisement and publicity, as it is an important initiative that must be sustained."
"I sincerely believe that there are many people who can benefit from the helpline," concludes Ahmed Firaaq. "In my experience as a counsellor, I have seen many clients who do not have the courage to ask for help in person and as a result do not benefit from timely information. Through the helpline, we can give people correct information and treatment options, while maintaining confidentiality and anonymity."
The '1410' helpline has been initiated as part of the UNODC-supported project "Strengthening the national response to prevent drug abuse in the Maldives", which is being implemented by the Government of Maldives. The project is funded by the European Union. The helpline is subsidized by the two telecom companies Wataniya and Dhiraagu.