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Fighting Addiction in Israel, Growing Abuse Problem Lends Itself to Some Novel Programs

March 6, 2006
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For some, Israel is the land of milk and honey. For others it’s the land of drugs and booze. Indeed, experts say, the Jewish state is in the throes of a growing problem with alcohol and drug addiction — a problem that manifests itself largely among immigrant communities and Israeli Arabs.

According to Jonathan Feldstein, executive director of the Israel Anti-Drug Abuse Foundation and the Israel Anti-Drug Authority, 300,000 people in Israel use drugs. Of those, between 20,000-30,000 are addicts.

Of the addicts, 25 percent are women. Of the 300,000, he says, some 70,000 are age 18 or below.

These figures do not include alcohol abuse, which Feldstein says is "much higher."

Percentage-wise, these numbers are not as bad as addiction rates in the United States, Feldstein says. Still, because Israel is such a small country, "the problems are more pronounced."

In response, Feldstein says, Israel has created several innovative programs to address addiction, programs he believes could help the American Jewish community.

"I’m very comfortable in making a sweeping generalization," says Feldstein, a recent immigrant to Israel from New Jersey. "The American Jewish community likes to keep its head in the sand and not think that we really have a drug problem. In America it’s much less spoken about and is therefore a harder nut to crack."

Feldstein is in the process of talking to major federations and local and national social service agencies interested in partnering to bring several successful Israeli addiction programs to the United States. The programs include:

A 24/7, toll-free drug-resource phone line with English speakers, that will be staffed in Israel to save money;

A prevention program geared toward kindergarten children focusing on building self esteem, resisting peer pressure and knowing what’s good and bad for your body;

An effort to reach out to the Russian community, which, Feldstein says, has a high level of alcoholism;

Feldstein also is looking into opening beds in therapeutic communities in Israel to English speakers. This would offer recovery "in a Jewish context. It also takes them out of the environment which has been facilitating the addiction," he says.

Feldstein’s effort comes as drugs in Israel make international headlines: U.S. marshals recently arrived in Israel to extradite Ze’ev Rosenstein, who until his arrest at the request of American authorities in November 2004 allegedly ran one of Israel’s largest drug rings. America says Rosenstein conspired to import more than one million ecstasy tablets into the United States.

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