Israeli Health Ministry Threatens to Stop Treating Addicts Over Bureaucratic Spat

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman demands $840,000 annually to maintain his ministry’s antidrug activities, including rehabilitation and training

A drug rehabilitation center in Lifta.
Nir Kafri

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is threatening to halt all of his ministry’s antidrug activities unless it receives 3 million shekels ($840,000) a year to address the problems of drug abuse.

His demand comes against the backdrop of the expected closure of the Anti-Drug Authority after nearly 30 years and its replacement by a weakened version of it in the Public Security Ministry.

Closing the Anti-Drug Authority is expected to save the government some 20 million shekels a year. The antidrug authority has also faced criticism over its structure and administration – for example, it is headed by a council consisting of no fewer than 43 members.

Litzman sent the demand in a letter to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, ahead of preparatory discussions on the second and third readings of the bill combating violence, drugs and alcohol.

One of the things the bill would do is shutter the antidrug authority as a statutory body. It would reopen in a more limited format under the Public Security Ministry, as part of a broader body engaged in fighting crime and violence, alongside projects like City Without Violence. The idea began taking shape in 2015, but ran into legislative obstacles because of the authority’s status.

The Health Ministry is involved in a number of projects with the antidrug authority, including prevention, treatment of addicts, rehabilitation and training for professionals.

Yet the issue of payment has only arisen now, just as the bill reaches its final stages in the Knesset.

“I remind you that the treatment of drug addicts and addicts to psychoactive substances is done by medical and welfare professionals,” Litzman wrote to Erdan.

The Health Ministry estimates that its work in the areas of drugs and alcohol, prevention and rehabilitation cost it some 3 million shekels a year. Litzman therefore demanded that the Health Ministry be allocated appropriate finances and manpower in order to continue providing care. It also demanded that the budgets for its ongoing activities be enshrined in the new law.

Litzman clarified that if his demand is not met, the Health Ministry will not be able to accept the responsibility, and that its antidrug activities will stop immediately.

Among the ministry’s projects are training for medical and paramedical staff (250,000 shekels a year); operating five needle replacement centers (500,000 shekels); funding “social counselors” for people suffering both addiction and mental problems (700,000 shekels); and supporting the construction of new centers for people with both mental conditions and addiction (600,000 shekels); rehab at three centers (450,000 shekels); and aiding those who are addicted to painkillers (150,000 shekels).

The antidrug authority’s goals include activities to prevent drug use, education and training, data collection and development of services.

With its dissolution, the Israel Anti-Drug and Alcohol Abuse Authority Law, enacted in 1988, will be void and replaced by a multisystem response to the treatment of drug abuse and alcohol consumption, under the Public Security Ministry.

In addition to the budgetary aspects of closing the antidrug authority, opponents are concerned that the restructuring will destroy Israel’s fight against drugs.