Drug use and mental health in Gaza
In recent years, drug workers in the Middle East have seen a substantial increase in drug use among the Palestinian population. The rise is particularly evident in Gaza where the effect of the 2008/2009 war continues to have a catastrophic impact, not only the socio-economic and political fabric of society, but crucially on the mental health of its citizens.
Whereas the traditional drug of choice for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza tended to be hashish and heroin, recent reports have shown a substantial increase in the use of Tramadol among the Gaza population. Tramadol, a very strong pain killer, has become extremely common in the Gaza strip post the 2008/2009 war and is widely used as a type of anti-depressant for many of those who continue to suffer the daily trauma of life in the Gaza.
Many Palestinian users attribute the increased use of Tramadol individually and within Gaza generally, as a consequence of their living conditions and the experience of the latest war. Psychiatrist Tysir Diab, clinical supervisor of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme which operates three clinics in Gaza claims it has become widely used because “it relieves psychosomatic symptoms related to stress, like headaches and abdominal pain, as well as depression and nervousness.” He reckons some 10 percent of young adults are abusing drugs in Gaza. He also points out that other anti-anxiety medications and Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, which are also anti-depressants like Prozac, are available without prescription and are equally popular.
Many of the tunnels under the Gaza/Egypt border which provided the pretext for the Israeli invasion in 2008/2009 remain open, providing a vital lifeline for many essential commercial goods that are unable to enter the Gaza strip since the blockade. However, it is also through these tunnels that the majority of drugs enter the Gaza strip and it appears that as many Gazans continue to experience the hardship of daily life, demand will remain high for pain-relieving drugs. The incineration of 2 million Tramadol tablets in the last few days is a sign that the Hamas government is attempting to stop the dependency many Palestinians now have to this drug. However, it seems unlikely that such a move will have a lasting impact on the demand for these drugs while there is such a prominent mental health issue in Gaza that will remain for generations.