Gaza Residents Abusing the Synthetic Opiate Tramadol in Large Numbers

Residents of the Gaza Strip have responded to the difficulties of an Israeli blockade with increasing rates of self-medication with synthetic opioids and other recreational pharmaceuticals.

Tramadol hydrochloride, which is sold under the brand name Tramal, is one of the more popular medications of abuse.

Natural opiates have been banned under Hamas rule, but government officials neglected to regulate synthetic opioids such as Tramal -- thus leaving these drugs available for easy sale in Gaza pharmacies. Officials of the Hamas Public Health Ministry have recently visited area pharmacies to against the sale of Tramal and other medications without a prescription, but area residents say that it is still quite easy to buy these recreationally abused pills.

Popular with Teens, Adults

Tramal is especially popular with high school students as young as 13 years old. Men between 18 and 30 also report using the medication to improve sexual performance and stamina.

A box of ten 100mg Tramal pills sells at the retail level for about $6. The medication is also smuggled in quantity through tunnels from Egypt, and sold on the black market for much more.

Taysir Diab, a psychiatrist at the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) said that high unemployment and the depression that sometimes accompanies "sitting at home without a salary" cause many to take drugs in an attempt to self-medicate.

Eyad el-Sarraj, president of the GCMHP, complained that although regulations governing the sale of medications without a prescription existed on the books, in reality, the lack of real-world control over the retail distribution of medication makes it easy for consumers to buy prescription medications over the counter.

El-Sarraj also mentioned that the lack of professionally trained psychiatrists in Gaza leads to an over-prescription of these types of drugs for psychosomatic disorders.

“I hope this [opiate abuse] will have some end, but I doubt it," El Sarraj said. "I think that we have to brace ourselves for even more serious problems.”

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