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28 Aug, 2010 04:34

‘Happy pill’ to escape unhappy life: Gazans get addicted to painkiller

As Israel and Palestine gear up to resume direct talks, life in the blockaded Gaza Strip pushes many to look to escape reality as some find oblivion in the powerful painkiller Tramadol which has a narcotic effect.

In fact, Tramadol is the latest weapon in Gaza. Branded a ‘happy pill’, it replaces reality with illusion as more and more Gazans are swallowing it.

It is the desire to escape reality that has made the drug so popular, according to one Palestinian.

“It makes you forget everything – even your father and your family and everything,” he said. “You will not think anymore about Jerusalem or the Palestinian cause or anything, the only thing you think about is how to get it.”

Life for people living in Gaza is difficult. There are frequent power cuts and unemployment officially stands at 40 percent. By some figures, four out of five Gazans depend on food aid.

Despite Israel easing its blockade last month and allowing more consumer goods in, Jerusalem still bans exports and many raw materials that could allow Gaza’s factories to reopen.

About 80 per cent of items available in the Strip are still being smuggled in through the tunnels. Among them – the powerful drug, Tramadol.

Related to morphine and heroin, the Gaza health ministry recognizes Tramadol as a painkiller and allows its sale only by prescription.

For most Gazans, it is the best way to escape the Israeli blockade, and as the quality of their life deteriorates, its popularity has grown.

Nowadays it is easy to come by on the black market where a sheet of eight pills sets one back about ten dollars.

“That pill is more important than the bread I bring for my children,” said one of the Palestinian addicted to the pill.

This is why the government is cracking down hard. It is worried by dependency rates that have rocketed sky high.

“There are many reasons behind this widespread phenomenon,” said police chief lieutenant colonel Iyad Al-Haurani. “Some of them are sexual, of which many Gaza residents feel shy to talk about. It all starts with one pill, afterwards Tramadol is consumed in large quantities.”

Hamas recently seized and burned nearly two million painkillers. At the same time, it confiscated cigarettes from shops to collect taxes on them, both in an effort to strengthen its grip on Gaza and impose its strict interpretation of Islam.

However, it is difficult to stop the drug from getting into Gaza. For many, the most effective way of escaping from a place where there is not much to smile about is by swallowing the so-called Gaza ‘happy pill’.