Supply of 'happy pills' is destroyed

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The Hamas government yesterday burned nearly 2 million prescription painkillers seized from smugglers. Many Gazans take such pills recreationally to provide relief from the hardships of life in the Occupied Territories.

The disposal of the drugs came days after the Islamic militant leadership confiscated cigarettes from shops to collect taxes on them. Both moves were part of Hamas's efforts to strengthen its grip on Gaza and impose its strict interpretation of Islam on the impoverished territory's 1.5 million Palestinian residents.

The Health Minister, Basim Naim, said authorities burned 1,700,000 Tramadol pills which were seized from smugglers who use tunnels beneath the Egyptian border to sneak in contraband. Tramadol is a powerful painkiller related to morphine and heroin, although most countries do not treat it as a controlled substance. Those who stop taking the drug following regular use often develop flu-like withdrawal symptoms, though long-term effects are rare.

The Gaza health ministry recognises Tramadol as a painkiller but allows its sale only by prescription. The drug's popularity in Gaza has grown in recent years as the quality of life has plummeted.

Israel and Egypt blockaded the Palestinian territory in 2007, causing major shortages. Violence and hardship has only increased demand for Tramadol, which many Gazans say takes their minds off their worries. Others say it can delay ejaculation, enhancing sex. A sheet of eight pills costs about 40 shekels, or a little under £7.