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Pills that are Gazans' little helpers
Thu May 7, 2009 8:11pm EDT
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By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ivan Karakashian
GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Palestinians struggling to cope with the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the trauma of war are turning to painkillers and tranquillizers at a rate that risks triggering a wave of addiction.
There is also evidence of mounting recreational drug use as Gaza drifts in limbo, with no clear political future.
Gaza residents reported health problems after a 22-day Israeli offensive last January, with most citing psychological problems and stress, according to a survey published by the United Nations Gender Task Force on April 21.
"With increased trauma and stress and limited access to professional psychosocial services, there is a rising problem of self-medication with unsupervised pharmaceutical therapies among the Gaza population," said a summary presented in Jerusalem.
One eighth-grade teacher, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said she recently found several 13-year-olds using tramadol hydrochloride, a strong painkiller sold under the brand name Tramal which is now drug of choice in the Gaza Strip.
A boy had stolen the drug from his parents' room and passed it to friends, unaware of its potency or the risk of addiction.
A synthetic opioid developed by German company Gruenenthal in 1977 to treat moderate to severe pain, Tramal has caught on among Gaza high school students, male and female, said Islam Shahwan, a Hamas police spokesman.
There are rich profits to be made on drugs which pharmacists and other traders say can be smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt and sold for several times the purchase price.
"Every kind, anything you want, comes through the tunnels that are still functioning," said Salim, a doctor and pharmacist who declined to give his full name, referring to a crackdown on the supply tunnels.
Palestinians say some 1,400 people including 926 civilians died in Israel's war from December 27 to January 18 against Hamas-led Islamist militants in the Gaza Strip.
Israel, which launched the offensive to halt daily salvoes of short-range rockets from Gaza, says most of the dead in its own tally of 1,166 Palestinians killed were fighters.
Besides extensive destruction, the bombing has added to Gaza's problems of poverty, unemployment and overcrowding.
"To deal with depression here in Gaza, many take these drugs, especially youths who've lost their jobs, who sit at home and don't have a salary," said Taysir Diab, a psychiatrist at the Gaza Community Mental Health Program (GCMHP).
Tramal pills at 100 mg doses sell for 25 Israeli shekels ($6) for a box of 10. Besides Tramal, pharmacists named Elatrol (amitriptyline hydrochloride) and older antidepressants such as Valium (diazepam) and Anafranil (clomipramine) as commonly used.
Also popular -- and much more expensive -- is a mystery pill stamped "$." Mental health professionals say addiction is rife. Continued...
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