Gaza Youths Resort to Self-medication against Depression

By Saud Abu Ramadan – Gaza

Outside a pharmacy in Gaza City, Mohamed Jarada, 19, was sad and worried after the pharmacist refused to sell him the drug he used to take to deal with his depression.

"When I got stressed out by living problems, Tramal helps me to relax," said Jarada, who went jobless after he graduated from high school in 2008 and had to sustain on international aid and running errands for store keepers.

He was wounded by Israeli troops during the second Palestinian intifada (uprising) in 2000 when he was only 11. Doctors used Tramal to help him relieve the pain from gunshot, as it was used for many others at that time.

But Jarada never thought he would one day use it to escape mental stress.

Tramadol Hydrochloride is the chemical name of Tramal, the drugillicitly used by about 35 to 40 percent of Gaza’s young population, aged between 16 to 35, according to the statistics Hamas-ruled Ministry of Health released in May.

Some middle school teachers complained that they found their teenage students using the drug, stolen from their parents.

Muneer el-Borsh, Director General of Pharmacies with the Ministry said "the drug has been present in Gaza’s hospitals and clinics for a long time, and often prescribed by physicians for patients suffering gunshot wounds and severe physical agony." It was also used for male patients who suffer from premature ejaculation, he said.

"But people began to use it for other purposes when they learn that it could result in euphoria and prolonged ejaculation," said El-Borsh.

Israel sealed off all Gaza commercial crossings and imposed a tight blockade on the Gaza Strip right after Hamas movement took control of the impoverished enclave in June 2007.

The blockade, which Israel says is aimed at isolating Hamas movement, has broken the social and psychological life of the enclave’s 1.5 million population, about 45 percent of whom are now unemployed. Young people seemed to find it especially hard to remain calm and easy.

Thus, Tramal and similar kinds of drugs have become escape for many young unemployed fathers, or students who sometimes cannot afford transportation fees to get to their universities in Gaza.

Jarada said when he did not feel nervous, he took three pills (100 mg each) a day, adding "but when I feel depressed, I take more pills to make myself numb and tranquil."

Tramal pills at 100 mg doses sell for 30 Israeli shekels (about7.5 U.S. dollars) for a box of 10.

It used to be sold over the counter in Gaza pharmacies. But when Hamas authorities found its prevalent use among young people, it launched a campaign to confiscate Tramal and drugs of similar kinds in pharmacies and drug stores, and made it only available under doctors’ prescription.

However, Gazan youths, including Jarada can still get the drug from friends who work in the tunnels. "Whenever my dosage is about to run out, I call my friend and ask him to get me more," Jarada said.

During the two-year tight blockade, Gazans dug thousands of tunnels under the border between Gaza Strip and Egypt, where all kinds of goods, including Tramal and other drugs, as well as food,soda water, fuels and electronics, were smuggled from Egypt to Gaza.

"When I see a friend who seems to be calm and cool, I usually joke with him: are you Tramalized?" said Hassan Ghaben, a Palestinian student from Gaza, adding "the phenomena become normal and I believe there are so many young men who use drugs to escape their problems."

The misconception that Tramal is just a pain killer, has made more people use it with no fear for getting addicted, said el-Borsh. "However, its negative impact on young people, especially teenagers, is yet to be discovered."


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