The UN recorded a dramatic rise in the recreational use of prescription drugs smuggled through tunnels from Egypt after Israel’s devastating 3-week offensive on the Gaza Strip in December 2008.
A 16-year-old teenager who says he was once addicted to 25 different drugs told Ma’an he and his friends would boast about their drug use. “Everyone used to show off, especially about being addicted, (being) knowledgeable and the most experienced about more types of drugs,” he said.
He added: “I was treated in rehabs outside Gaza and was cured but every time I would leave rehab, I would be back on drugs again.”
Police arrested him many times, he said, and eventually sent him to the Kamel and Tamam rehab clinic in northern Gaza where he underwent 45 days of intensive treatment.
“There are a lot of services in this rehab which makes me love this place. Thank God I was cured here and did not return to drugs. If I ever felt weak and in need of drugs I would visit a social worker here to seek help so I wouldn’t become addicted again.”
Another man at the clinic shared a similar experience. The 22-year-old told Ma’an his friends introduced him to drugs, and he took them “more than water.”
“I reached a point in my addiction that I didn’t care about my family or friends or anyone. All I cared about was taking what my body needed which was drugs.”
“I sought help outside Gaza but it didn’t help me at all, I ended up going back to drugs,” he said.
A friend who was treated at Kamal and Tamam recommended that he seek help there.
“The staff helped me a lot, they worked on enhancing our determination and resistance and explained to us that we were victims of the Israeli occupation,” he said.
“Thank God, and I thank all those who helped me. I now have a very strong determination not to go back to drugs. I am normal now. I sleep, eat, and live normally.
“I am now thinking of taking courses on drug rehabilitation abroad to help guide addicts to the right path to be clean again. I would help them financially if I could,” he said.
Bilal al-Saqqa, a psychologist at Kamal and Tamam, told Ma’an the clinic treated addicts as sick people — who need treatment and protection — and not as criminals.
As well as medical care, the clinic provides psychological and social help using individual sessions and group therapy to improve relations to the drug users family and to prepare for the patient’s return to the community.
Director Ahmad al-Madhoun said the center was established in response to the increase in drug use.
The clinic mostly treats teenagers and those in their early 20s, although some children have been admitted, al-Madhoun said.
Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip, which entered its sixth year on Thursday, has had a devastating economic impact on the enclave, leading to high rates of youth unemployment.
Over the last five years, Israel has allowed fewer than 1,000 trucks of exports to leave Gaza. In 2006, almost 7,000 trucks of exports left Gaza.
“(A) small economy such as that of the Gaza Strip, which lacks natural resources and has next to no purchasing power, has no hope of achieving stable and sustainable economic development without significant export,” the Israeli legal rights group Gisha said in its latest report.
The World Bank reported in March that “only 33 percent of young Palestinians aged 15-29 years were active participants in the labor force in the fourth quarter of 2011, and 46.5 percent of those were unemployed.”