Israeli Prisons Denying ADHD Medicine Like Ritalin to Jailed Teens

Claiming the drugs are addictive, the prison service offers alternatives, but some experts claim that drug therapy is indispensable to treating attention deficit disorder

FILE PHOTO: Young Israelis in a prison classroom
Nir Kafri

The Israel Prison Service has been preventing young adults who are in prison from receiving prescription medications to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, the Israel Hayom daily reported Thursday.

The head of the prison service's education division said prisoners recive alternative treatment, like therapy, even though 90 percent of teens in prison suffer from attention-related disorders. The prison service confirmed the report to Haaretz.

The prison service said the medications are psychoactive drugs that can be addictive and other methods exist to treat such disorders, Israel Hayom reported. "The prison service believes attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders can be treated without medication," the report said.

The Israel Prison Service spokesman confirmed to Haaretz that Ritalin is not allowed into prisons due to what he called its "very problematic use." Other behavioral and skill-related approaches are used instead, he said, adding that the prison service's educational approach involves small classes and long-term solutions rather than addressing the problem in a more limited manner.

The efficacy of alternative treatments for attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorders without the use of prescription drugs has been called into question by some experts. Some doctors specializing in such disorders claim it is impossible to even compare the effectiveness of such programs to that of treatment with drugs, even if the IPS believes otherwise.

The results of research on such non-pharmaceutical treatments contradict the IPS position, said Dr. Iris Manor, the chairwoman of the Israeli Society for ADHD of the Israel Medical Association. “Without drug treatment, the effectiveness of the treatment is very low. Some things are behavioral, but in the end, rehabilitative treatment is effective with drugs,” Manor told Haaretz.

The problem is complex, and without a doubt the most effective treatment is not being used in the prisons, said Manor, who added that drugs can be abused and the fears of the prison service are understandable. Ritalin can be abused but it is not addictive, as the IPS claims, she added.

In any event, whether or not such medications are addictive, the IPS has no authority to prevent their use by prisoners, said lawyers who specialize in this area of the law. “They cannot act against the Patient’s Rights Law. Even a drug to treat diabetes can be trafficked in prison but that does not justify not supplying the drug to those who need it,” human rights lawyer Gabi Lasky told Haaretz. It appears, she claimed, that the Prison Service is conducting an illegal experiment on prisoners by withholding their medicines.

Lawyer Itamar Ben-Gvir claimed that the prison service’s policy is illegal and a violation of international conventions and that the service has no right to keep legal prescription medicines from prisoners. And Ben-Gvir claimed alternative treatments are important mostly for the prison service's public relations. The prison walls should not prevent young prisoners and their parents from choosing the treatments the prisoners receive, said Ben-Gvir.