Under siege and grappling with joblessness, factional violence and the aftermath of war, Gazans are turning to pills as they seek to escape reality. Donald Macintyre speaks to a mental health group struggling to help addicts
Abu Ahmed lived through last winter’s Gaza war in a daze. Though the district where he lives was invaded by Israeli ground forces and came under heavy fire, including the use of white phosphorus shells, he felt little fear. For by then, the 45-year-old unemployed father of 10 was popping tablets of the painkiller Tramadol to feed an ever more dangerous habit.”Of course you care about the children but [with the drugs] you forget about yourself,” he explains. “You feel less frightened.”
Manufacturers warn the maximum daily dose of the synthetic opioid should be no more 300mg per day; Abu Ahmed was taking as much as 800mg – in the grip of an addiction which has rapidly spread throughout Gaza over the last two years. As the population struggles to cope with Israel closing their home to the outside world, the sometimes violent power struggles between Fatah and Hamas, and then the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, the Tramadol pills – smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt – have provided a welcome escape from reality.