Hamas burns popular recreational drug

Associated Press / April 21, 2010

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza’s Hamas rulers yesterday burned nearly 2 million pills of a painkiller many Gazans take recreationally because they say it relaxes them and provides temporary relief from the territory’s hardships.

The disposal of the drugs comes days after the Islamic militant group confiscated cigarettes from Gaza shops to collect taxes on them. Both moves are part of Hamas’s efforts to strengthen its grip on Gaza and impose its strict interpretation of Islam on the impoverished seaside territory’s 1.5 million Palestinian residents.

Hamas Health Minister Basim Naim said authorities burned some 1.7 million pills of a drug called Tramadol that had been seized from smugglers who sneak it through tunnels under the Egyptian border.

Tramadol is a powerful painkiller, related to morphine and heroin, though most countries don’t treat it as a controlled substance.

Specialists have said that those who stop taking the drug after regular use often develop flulike withdrawal symptoms, though long-term effects are rare.

A sheet of eight pills costs around 40 shekels, or a little over $10.

Gaza’s Health Ministry recognizes the drug as a painkiller, Naim said, but allows its sale only by prescription.

The drug’s popularity in Gaza has grown in recent years as the quality of life has plummeted. Hamas seized the territory from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007, and Israel and Egypt imposed a strict blockade in 2007, causing shortages of many basic goods.