Drug Addicts in the North Find a Long Road to Rehab - Literally

Many drug addicts undergoing rehabilitation have returned to crime, begging and prostitution since privatization led to the closure of Haifa's residential rehab center in January, according to addicts who are now in outpatient treatment in the city.

The Haifa center was formerly the North's only public residential treatment center. But the Health Ministry decided to privatize its residential rehab program to cut costs, and the tender winner opted to establish the North's new rehab center at Kiryat Shlomo, in the center of the country near Kfar Sava.

This was possible because the tender defined the "northern district" as anywhere north of Kfar Sava.

The Kiryat Shlomo center declined to say how many northerners it has treated since it opened. But officials at Haifa's outpatient center believe the number is very small. "Why should I travel to Kfar Sava when I don't have the price of the fare?" asked Miki, who is undergoing treatment at the outpatient center.

Fuad Hijab, a former addict who was successfully treated in Haifa's residential center 15 years ago and began working as a counselor at the outpatient clinic two years later, explained that drug addicts, even more than other people, fear going to a strange place where they will not know anyone.

"What is most powerful about residential rehab is that you meet people you know, who you've done drugs with, and you see that they're getting clean. And that works on you," he said. "There are moments of breakdown when you need friends around you. The chance of that happening in Kfar Sava is slim."

The Haifa center had 16 beds. Generally, addicts were housed there for three weeks until the crisis had passed, after which they continued treatment on an outpatient basis. Over the years, thousands of addicts passed through the center. Today, all that remains of it is the outpatient program and a dispensary where addicts can pick up their methadone.

Professor Eli Leventhal, who ran the center for 25 years, said that the ministry's "savings" will end up costing Israeli society dearly.

"A drug addict is a walking disaster," he said. "He costs the state half a million shekels a year through theft and crime, prison terms, hospitalization, the spread of sexual diseases." In contrast, he said, residential treatment cost the state only NIS 270 per addict per day.

Leventhal said that on a recent visit to the emergency room in Haifa's Rambam Medical Center, he saw six addicts who had either been in or were awaiting treatment at the residential center when it closed. Several of the addicts now in outpatient treatment concurred.

"Friends who were with me here are today in jail, and some are in the hospital following suicide attempts," said Haim, one of the addicts.

However, the Coastal District Police said they have not noticed any increase in crime involving drug addicts over the last few months.

In response, the Health Ministry said it was the Finance Ministry's decision to privatize the clinic, but stressed that the tender winner had knowledge and experience in drug rehabilitation. Moreover, it argued, precisely because the residential center is residential, "proximity to [the addict's] place of residence during this period is irrelevant."