Anti-drug parley draws regional delegates [pg. 3]

Olmert: 300,000 drug users in Israel, no easy way to cope with this phenomenon.

"Israel's next government will act to change the priorities of Israeli society," Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday at a Tel Aviv conference organized by the National Anti-Drugs Authority. Olmert cited statistics concerning the number of drug users in Israel, which currently number at least 300,000 people, and said that between 20,000-25,000 of them used hard drugs. "There is no simple and easy way to cope with this phenomenon," Olmert said. "The question is how to create a reality that significantly reduces the exposure to drugs and to related dangers. I don't know any society that has managed to completely eradicate drug use, but I do think that a significant reduction can be brought about. There has to be a national social effort led by the government." Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Olmert said, had spoken to him more than once about the threats posed by drugs, and the importance of fighting them. Participants at the conference included Professor Margaret Hamilton, the Australian government's consultant on fighting drug abuse, and official representatives from Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. At the conference, which was presided over by Anti-Drugs Authority chairman Ronny Douek, the ADA presented its five-year action plan for a war on drugs. One of the fundamental conditions for success, Douek said, was full cooperation between various government ministries, the media, the academy, voluntary organizations and the general public. The new national program to be proposed by the ADA, Douek also said, would include doubling the number of communities in which there is anti-drug activity from 56 to 100, and implementing preliminary educational programs to counter drug abuse in over 300 preschools across the country. The ADA also plans to encourage legislation concerning minimum punishment criteria for drug dealers, and to create a system of treatment and rehabilitation for over 15,000 heroin addicts, as well as to provide a mobile anti-drugs education unit to cater to the Beduin population dispersed throughout the Negev. Other speakers at the conference included Health Minister Ya'acov Edri, Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra, MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) and army and police officials. According to the ADA, over 100 tons of marijuana and hashish are annually smuggled into Israel through the border with Egypt, while 3-4 tons of other drugs - mostly heroin - enter the country across the border with Jordan. In addition, approximately 20 million LSD and Ecstasy pills are smuggled into the country every year on airplanes and ships. "The quantities of drugs that enter Israel are astounding," Edri said during the conference. "The drug problem pertains to us all, including elite units in the IDF." "Drugs are indeed a strategic threat to Israel," Edri added. Edri also expressed his opposition to the legalization of certain recreational drugs, and underscored the importance of educational efforts to prevent drug use. "The most important thing is to prevent every person from touching drugs for the first time," said Ezra. "We need to educate children and their parents as early as kindergarten. "As long as drug dealers won't pay a dear price for trying to make easy money through drug dealing, drugs will continue to flow into the country," Ezra warned. According to ADA director-general Haim Messing, a recent survey of university students revealed that between 30-40 percent of students use some form of drugs. "The greatest problem in Israel today is the population aged 18-25, which includes soldiers who carry weapons and serve at roadblocks and in combat units," Messing said.