Four drug addicts who are treated in methadone distribution centers which have been operated by a non-profit organization for almost 20 years petitioned the High Court of Justice on Wednesday in protest against the Health Ministry’s decision to privatize the centers.

The individual petitioners were joined by The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights and the Adva Center, an institute “whose mandate is to examine Israeli society from the perspective of equality and social justice,” according to its website.

The ministry has already issued a tender which is due to close on Thursday for the takeover of the centers.

According to statistics provided by the petitioners, there were 12,000 drug addicts in Israel in 2009, including 3,500 who were being treated in the methadone distribution centers.

The privatization of the methadone distribution centers is part of the Health Ministry’s overhaul of its mental health program. While the rest of the service will be transferred to the health clinics, the ministry decided to remove the centers from public responsibility.

The petitioners wrote that the separation of the treatment of drug addicts from those suffering from mental illness was illogical. Drug addiction was also considered a mental as well as a physical illness, they said. In addition to providing a drug substitute for opiates, the centers until now have also provided a wide range of social and psychological support for those being treated and their families.

The petitioners also warned that there were serious drawbacks in transferring responsibility for the drug addicts to the private sector, which was profit-motivated.

For one thing, the private distribution centers will receive a fixed sum of money from the government. Once the money has been used up, the centers will refuse to accept any more patients.

Furthermore, the private centers will have substantial control over the lives of the addicts including powers that should only be wielded by the state. For example, the centers will have broad discretion in deciding which patients to accept or reject. They will have the right to apply sanctions against patients including suspension, cancellation of benefits, transfer of patients to other centers, cessation of treatment and cancellation of welfare payments.

“These are harsh sanctions which could cause patients to regress and go back to street drugs with the concomitant danger of disease, prostitution and exposure to violence,” the petitioners wrote.

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