Behind the Headlines Growing Drug Abuse in Israel

Twenty years after America first realized the extent of its drug problem, Israel is fighting a similar war against an escalating number of drug abusers. There are an estimated 15,000 drug addicts in Israel today, an accumulation of about 10 years of drug use there.

That statistic is based only on accounts of hospital treatment reported by the Israeli Magen David Adom, and according to Andre Marcus, of the International Anti-Drug Abuse Foundation, “that figure can be doubled without exaggerating.”

About 40 percent of the drug abusers in Israel are between the ages of 13 and 18, according to Diane Marcus, also of the Foundation. Another 40 percent are 22 and over, while the figure drops to 20 percent for those 18 to 22.

“The drop comes when people go into the Army,” Diane Marcus said. “Those found to be on drugs in the Army are kicked out and go to jail. That creates a problem because if you don’t finish three years in the Army you can’t do anything afterwards,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

COUNTRY-WIDE PROBLEM

Drugs exist all over Israel, Andre Marcus said, especially around the borders where the drugs are coming in. “Historically, Americans brought the first drugs to kibbutzim,” he said, “but now the main source is southern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley.”

Consequently, drugs such as marijuana, used most often in the younger circles, and heroin, prominent in the over-22 group, are available and cheap. “Since the drugs are not travelling too far, it’s much cheaper than in America,” noted Diane Marcus.

Israel is just beginning to realize the extent of its drug problem, which first became evident after the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Diane Marcus explained that since Israelis have not witnessed the potentially harmful effects of drug use, as Americans have, it is more difficult to prevent it there. Israelis are also not yet equipped to deal with drug abusers.

“The problem is that there is no center to cure these people on a long-term basis,” said Diane Marcus. “The only thing that exists are day clinics.” There are two types of walk-in youth clinics: one uses methadone to treat addicts and the other does not use any drug replacement. The latter involves social workers, doctors and psychologists who counsel and treat young drug abusers anonymously.

“The kids on drugs are in such a circle that they cannot relate anymore to their parents and they cannot talk to friends who are not on drugs because their behavior will not be accepted,” Diane Marcus explained.

“Those who realize they are on a bad track and want to get out would rather go to somebody outside their circle,” she added. “Usually what happens is you end up knowing more about them and find out what led them way back to the process of taking drugs.”

11 YOUTH CLINICS OPENED IN ISRAEL

The first youth clinic was inaugurated by Elizabeth Moynihan in April, 1978 on behalf of the Foundation and under the auspices of Al-Sam, an Israeli government-sponsored agency to fight drugs. Since then, funds raised by the Foundation, which was created in 1976 by Aviva Najor, wife of Israeli bassador Amiel Najar, at the request of the Israeli Ministry of Heath, have helped to open II youth clinics throughout Israel.

The Israeli government subsidizes some of the costs, depending on the state of the economy, but much of the money comes from private fund-raising. Every two years the Foundation stages a fund-raising gala ball with proceeds going to the clinics. Each clinic costs about $30,000 annually to operate, and also to train Israeli personnel in America.

This year’s ball, held two weeks ago at the Vista International Hotel of New York City, was attended by some 280 supporters who were entertained by Sammy Davis Jr., and raised about $150,000.

One problem with the Israeli clinics is that they are limited to treating drug abusers 18 years and younger. According to Diane Marcus, this age group is targeted in order to detoxify them while they’re still young. Many drug users and drug pushers go to jail, Andre Marcus said, for between one to three years, since there is no place else for them to be treated.

“They are treated like common criminals,” explained Diane Marcus, “and there is no attempt to rehabilitate them.”

EFFORT TO CURB THE PROBLEM

The Foundation plans to capitalize on the knowledge other nations more experienced with handling drug abuse have acquired and share that with Israel to prevent the problem from spreading. Teachers are now being educated about the effects of drug abuse and pass the message to their students. Another goal of the Foundation is to open a therapeutic center for in-patient treatment in Israel to complement the existing youth clinics.

“So far, Israel has been spared the worst of the drug problem, but it’s coming,” warned former Ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis in a speech at the ball.

“The problem is growing in the wake of the Lebanon war,” Lewis said. But he expressed hope that since the drug problem came 10 years later than in America, “Israelis have a better chance to profit from lessons we have learned.”

Lewis related to the audience a newscast he had been watching earlier that night about users of “crack,” a potent form of cocaine that is climbing to epidemic proportions in New York City. “There is one crack-related murder every 24 hours,” Lewis said. “It’s a cause that had we Americans been able to attack as early as Israelis can attack it, we wouldn’t be watching scenes we saw on our television sets tonight.”

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