Tashkent (Uzbekistan), 22 January 2020 — Every morning, Doctor Lilia Muzaffarova walks to work at the Tashkent City Narcological Dispensary, where she is the Chief of the Adolescent Department. Her work on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of drug addiction among youth and adolescents has made her keenly aware that —while addiction can affect anybody regardless of age, financial status or education— addiction is most certainly a challenge that can be overcome.
Since 2008, Dr. Muzaffarova has been an active participant at regional UNODC workshops focusing on drug use prevention among youth and treating drug dependency. The UNODC approach to treating drug use disorders among youth by strengthening family relationships resonate with her and have helped her achieve positive results.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has brought about its share of unforeseen challenges; and for Dr. Muzaffarova’s practice, this translated into patients scaling back on their progress — and an influx of new consults.
“At the beginning of the spread of COVID-19, many patients experienced panic attacks,” she explained. “Conflicts arose within families due to confinement; people felt confused. Parents did not know how to interact with children; it was difficult for them to find time and energy to help children adapt to studying online. There was quite a lot of internal stress, accompanied by a rise in mood disorders, depressive states, even suicidal tendencies.”
The family-first approach that she had successfully used to treat her patients had momentarily come under fire, due to the new stressors precipitated by the ongoing health crisis and the consequent lockdowns.
As a national trainer for UNODC’s Strengthening Families Programme and UNODC’s Strong Families Programme, she has long been devoted to teaching family skills, positive parenting, communication skills, stress relief relaxation techniques, as well as timely conflict detection and resolution. However, as the pandemic unfolded and family conflict escalated, Dr. Muzaffarova soon came to realize that her methods still work well under a lockdown — with the help of technology.
Patient consultations kept pouring in: adolescents showing signs of behavioural disorders, fathers experiencing stress as they worried about feeding their families, and mothers nearing burnout from juggling their daily lives, work and now children studying from home. And everyone together, under one roof.
Using the online platforms available to her clients —Zoom, WhatsApp, Telegram, and just audio messages— Dr. Muzaffarova jumped into action and adapted her work to the new reality. Since the start of the pandemic, her records show that she has helped over 1,470 teenagers and their families.
“The majority of my patients were parents who felt lost due to not knowing how to improve relationships with children, assist with homework, how to be confident and build ‘the family shield’, be understanding to each other, feel united, and create a positive emotional environment,” Dr. Muzaffarova says.
An added benefit, she explains, were the new tools introduced by UNODC, aimed at strengthening caregiving and parenting skills during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In March and April, probably the most stressful period, it was clearly visible that the parents who had participated in the Strong Families Programme were better able to cope with the situation, applying the skills acquired through programme to even support relatives and friends experiencing issues at home,” offers Dr. Muzaffarova.
An essential advantage of the UNODC programme, according to Dr. Muzaffarova, is its scientific validity, efficiency, and versatility; making it easy to expand the scope of its application — and for trainees to quickly apply what they have learned to assist members of their community.
Dr. Muzaffarova extolls on the methodology promoted by the UNODC workshops, which have made it possible for herself and her fellow professionals in Uzbekistan to develop a broader perspective, become better professionals and provide quality care for their patients.
"The peculiarity of adolescence is that at this time stress over sick parents or depression from the loss of loved ones, often manifests itself in behaviour disorder: depression in adolescents takes the shape of aggression, rebellion, withdrawal, and refusal to study. That was the time we —including counsellors and psychologists— were compelled to crack open our UNODC manuals and refresh our memory of the principles of differential diagnosis."
She explains that now, after the trainings, she is able to understand the essence of the problem, develop effective methods to address it and involve all family members in the treatment — vital when working with adolescents.
Assessing family dynamics to detect the source of conflict and tracing our its ramifications, has proven to be an effective approach even in the treatment of young adults, such as university students. In some instances, strict environments characterized by duty and discipline can instigate stress, which can sometimes become the root cause of substance use.
Dr. Muzaffarova has even had the chance to experience the effects of the methodology she so often applied on her own patients, first-hand. In 2020, she contracted COVID-19 and was forced to spend three months confined at home. This drover her to start testing the techniques she had learned at the UNODC courses, within her own family.
“It was a unique experience, and I could feel the effect first-hand,” she says. “Of course, my profession forced me to continue working online while on sick leave, but it was then that I realized how the skills I apply in helping others, also help me. Programmes such as Strong Families and Family United, initiatives that save people, that bring change, that help others — this is what inspires me every day and gives me the energy to continue doing my work.”
The UNODC Regional Office for Central Asia –under its sub-programme "Drug Prevention, Treatment and Reintegration and HIV Prevention" and UNODC Global Project GLOJ71 "Treating drug dependence and its health consequences: TREATNET II"– delivers capacity-building activities in the field of drug dependence treatment and care. The Organization aims to enhance the Member States’ capacities for drug use disorder treatment, reintegration and care.
The overall goal of the training activities is to reduce the medical, social, and economic problems associated with substance use disorders, by developing the international treatment capacity through training, enhancing skills, and expanding the global treatment workforce.
The training prepares addiction specialists for professional certification, by providing the latest information about substance use disorders and treatment. It also facilitates hands-on activities to develop their skills and confidence.