Ketamine Use in Israel Is 'Booming', Police Report

'There's a real surge of it in Israel. Dozens of liters are arriving and two drops are enough for one use,' police superintendent tells lawmakers

A glass ampoule of ketamine at a hospital in Lagny Marne-la-Valle, France, 2013
VOISIN / Phanie

Illegal distribution of ketamine, a controlled substance often used recreationally, is on the rise in Israel, a police representative told a legislative panel Tuesday. “Ketamine use is booming. We’re seizing big quantities of this drug. There’s a real surge of it in Israel,” Police Superintendent Dana Sonenfeld, head of the police drug lab, told the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee. Tzion Efrati, deputy director of the Customs Authority drug unit, says, “Dozens of liters are arriving, and two drops are enough for one use.”

In January, the committee added ketamine, fentanyl and three other substances to the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance. Ketamine, which is approved for use as an anaesthetic for human and animal use, also been used in recent years in Israel and other countries to treat chronic depression, in scientific studies as well as in hospitals and public and private psychiatric clinics. However, at the same time, the substance has gained popularity as a recreational drug. Health Ministry officials say that in the last few years, ketamine use has been growing as a party drug and also as a so-called date-rape drug. Ketamine is nearly tasteless, colorless and odorless; it can cause serious side effects like irregular heart rhythms, seizures, destruction of muscle cells, hallucinations and nightmares.

>> Down the K-hole: How ketamine became Tel Aviv's drug of choice >>

Health Ministry official Barak Shapira says the expectation is that the popular use of stimulant drugs in clubs throughout Europe will soon hit Israel as well. “But mainly we’re concerned about the growing use around the world, and especially in the United States, of synthetic opioids, and of fentanyl specifically. We’re seeing a real spike in mortality in the U.S. due to the serious opioid epidemic there. We’ve taken preemptive measures and already included these substances under the dangerous drugs directive,” he says. Sonenfeld also noted that there is already some recreational use of fentanyl patches, which are supposed to be for medical use only.

Haaretz previously reported that the Health Ministry and the Anti-Drug Authority both point to an increase in painkiller addiction in Israel, and that more rehabilitation clinics for this purpose are being opened after the first one in Ramat Hasharon, run in conjunction with the Maccabi health maintenance organization, proved that a real need does exist and that this is a growing problem.

However, along with concerns over increasing use of ketamine and addictive painkillers, law enforcement officials report a sharp decline in the amount of designer drugs in circulation. The authorities say that imports of these drugs are down, and that more than 80 percent of the smuggling of designer drugs now happens via the mail and international courier companies.

Committee chairman MK Eli Alalouf (Kulanu) expressed concern over teen marijuana use, saying, “Cannabis is a drug like any other. We mustn’t be misled. It could get out of control.” MK Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid) added: “The high schools are flooded with cannabis. This drug is used on every school trip and every party. Israeli youth are hearing, from teachers and from MKs, that cannabis is within the bounds of the legitimate.”

According to the most recent survey by the Anti-Drug Authority, from 2015, which surveyed 14,000 teens over four years, there was an increase of more than 60 percent in the number of 10th graders, in secular Jewish schools, who’d tried cannabis, with the overall rate standing at 8.8 percent. In Arab society, the rate of 10th-grade users was even higher, at 11 percent. In the state religious schools, the rate among students of this age was 4.4 percent.