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Palestine | International

Besieged Gazans Turn to Painkillers
by IOL (reposted)
Monday Dec 15th, 2008 6:03 PM
A growing number of people in the blockaded Gaza Strip is becoming addicted to painkilling drugs which helps them numb the pain and stress and escape their misery under the long-running Israeli siege.
"Every day I see them with symptoms of withdrawal from this drug," Dr. Mahoud Khozendar, who works at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza city, told The Guardian on Monday, December 15.

"Dozens come to emergency telling me that they are suffering vomiting, drowsiness and lack of concentration."

According to pharmacologists and experts, thousands of Gazans have resorted over the past year to Tramadol, an opioid painkiller drug related to morphine and heroin.

Those who researched the epidemic said the problem mushroomed after Israel sealed off the impoverished seaside strip in June 2007.

"A maximum of 5% of users are buying it with a prescription," said Professor Mazen al-Sakka, a pharmacologist at Gaza's al-Azhar university.

With the boom in its popularity, large quantities of Tramadol, which is prescription drug in many countries, is now on the black market in Gaza.

The drug is so widely available that one tablet costs as little as one shekel, much cheaper than via the internet.

There are no exact figures, but researchers estimate that up to 30% of males between 14 and 30 in Gaza use Tramadol regularly

As many as 15,000 have become already become addicted to the drug, researchers added.

Numb

Experts affirm that Gazans are falling victims to painkillers addiction to get numb.

"It's a way of avoiding or escaping the political situation - the unemployment, the closure," said Dr Taysir Diab, a psychiatrist at the Gaza Community Mental Health Program.

"It's a huge source of stress."

In the short term, Tramadol removes the pain and stress and promotes a feeling of well being.

Professor Sakka, of al-Azhar University, was alerted to the problem by his students after he delivered a lecture about the potential dangers of the drug.

He says he was alarmed by the wide range of people who resort to the painkiller to cope with their daily struggle.

The spectrum includes professionals such as surgeons and students, Sakka added.

Despite international criticism, Israel closes all commercial crossings with the impoverished Palestinian territory, home to 1.6 million people, since November 4.

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