Substance abuse among religious confirmed in new Israeli survey

JERUSALEM — A significant number of Orthodox youngsters are taking drugs, according to a survey published Tuesday by the War on Drugs Authority. In some drug categories, they form a higher percentage of abusers than their secular counterparts.

The data were published Tuesday by the authority's director, Shlomo Gal, and its chief scientist, Rahel Bar-Hamburger. The survey, conducted with the Pori Institute, involved 5,575 teenagers and adults. Carried out through anonymous questionnaires filled in at schools and at home, it updates data from the authority's previous survey in 1995, aimed at estimating drug use in the population.

Some 3,376 youngsters aged 12 to 18 and the 2,199 adults aged 18 to 40 were surveyed.

While Arabs were included, a separate survey of the Arab sector will be published in two weeks, as will a survey focusing on youngsters at risk for drugs because they neither study nor work; the fervently religious, or haredim, were not polled were not polled.

According to the survey, 6 percent of pupils in religious Zionist schools are taking some sort of drug compared to 9.6 percent of those who called themselves traditional and 10.5 percent of the secular pupils.

When asked about their family's observance of tradition, 10.3 percent of those who said they "observed most of the mitzvot" took some drugs, compared to 7.7 percent of those who observed some and 11.7 percent who were not observant.

Gal will present the survey results to the prime minister, to the Education Ministry — which has in the past stated that anti-drug education is not needed in religious schools because the problem does not exist there — and to other ministries.

According to survey estimates, 25 tons of cannabis (hashish and marijuana) are consumed in Israel each year, while the police reported Tuesday that last year just 3.5 tons were confiscated; six to seven tons of heroin are estimated to be used, but last year police seized 300 pounds; and an unknown amount of psychedelic drugs like LSD and Ecstasy are used, of which tens of thousands of pills and capsules were confiscated.

The survey found that more than 85 percent of youngsters in school are unwilling to try drugs, compared to only 57 percent of those who are not working or studying.

About 200 drug addicts, among the 200,000 in the country, die from complications of their habit each year. About 600 people, most of them young, need psychiatric treatment each year after taking mind-altering drugs.

Between 200,000 and 250,000 Israelis come in some contact with illegal drugs each year, including one-time users. However, there is a sign that drug-taking of any kind among youngsters is not rising as rapidly as it did between 1992 (4.9 percent) and 1995 (9.3 percent), Gal and Bar-Hamburger said, as the current percentage of those using any type of drug (including sleeping and pep pills) is now 9.8 percent.