Thanks to stamja88 at another forum for the reference (users of other forums do seem to get so uptight about being acknowledged!)
Dancing with danger: Israel’s new clubbers
By Michal Levertov
Nightlife in Israel’s big cities is being fuelled by cheap amphetamine derivatives — drugs readily available from newspaper kiosks, and legal until actively banned. Michal Levertov investigates a trend that is worrying doctors
Eighteen-year-old Moshe Sahar and his friends are regular visitors to the nightclubs in south-east Tel Aviv, but occasionally they opt to go to one of the neighbouring Middle-Eastern music clubs. There, they say, the clientele is much more mature and they can pick up “divorcees from the Holocaust”. This phrase does not sound any better in Hebrew. Sahar and his friends are talking about “old divorcees” — women in their late thirties to early fifties. After a short conversation, the ladies in question typically asks the youngsters if they know where one can buy a hagigat upper — a generic name for the drugs popular among clubbers.
“We supply them with a drink and three capsules,” elaborates the lean, moon-faced Sahar. “In return, we get sex.”
But Sahar’s love-life is about to get a little more complicated. Hagigat uppers, in all their varied forms, are sold widely at Israeli pitzutzia (street kiosks open 24 hours a day) along with newspapers, cigarettes and that Israeli speciality, sunflower seeds. On Tuesday this week, however, 12 of these party drugs — all derivatives of amphetamines —were banned under the Israeli dangerous-drugs law. The ban is a major blow to the Israel drug market, openly catering to the clubbing crowd.
The drugs are sold in flashy packages and cockily displayed in the kiosks, bearing jokey names like Summer Party, Rakkefet (Cyclamen) or Illanit’s Hit.
But now, following a series of police raids and confiscations, the trade is being squeezed.
The kiosk drugs suddenly appeared on the scene six or seven years ago. Offer Bartov, a central Jerusalem kiosk owner and one of the few admitting today to selling “pills”, as he puts it, recalls the beginning of the phenomenon.
“Approximately six years ago, it started with a product called Liquid Energy, which came in a test tube,” says Bartov. “This was a couple of years after the Israeli launch of Red Bull [the caffeine-rich canned drink favoured by clubbers]. Probably there was a requirement for something more concentrated to keep people wakeful.”
Soon after, he continues, arrived hagigat. “It came out of the blue, and although customers were sceptical about it in the first place, within a short period it caught on.”
This original hagigat was a hit, paving way for other amphetamine derivatives and boosting the trade of the kiosks, which were suffering from both the economic recession caused by the intifada and the competition set by 24-hour supermarkets.
Hagigat — which contained the stimulant synthesised cathinone — was cleverly marketed. It was said to be a libido enhancer, and its name cleverly punned on the Hebrew word for party, hagiga, and khat, the plant whose leaves containing cathinone have traditionally been chewed by generations of long-living Yemenis. The drug was all that Israelis seeking an easy escape in shaky times could hope for.
In January 2005, however, the Israeli authorities caught up with the hagigat phenomenon and made the drug illegal. But it was replaced by other derivatives, and its name became a generic title for all the drugs sold at kiosks.
Back to January 2008. Sahar and his gang are enjoying a Friday night at a dance-club sipping vodka and making sure that a girl they know from their home town of Yahud, east of Tel Aviv, “won’t get in trouble, being already so drunk”.
The group are not interested in the history of kiosk drugs, nor do they care about the drugs’ legal status. “I’m doing a hagigat about once a month,” discloses clubber Natti Shoshani, “buying two capsules for 50 shekels [around £7]. Throughout the night I sniff the powder that’s in the capsule. Within 20 minutes I get the dlecka [a stimulating and sharpening of the senses].” Shoshani refuses to reveal the location of the kiosk where he buys his drugs.
It is not just nightclubbing teenagers who use these stimulants, says Itay Valdman, who as deputy editor of Time Out Tel Aviv covers the local night-life scene. Many of the buyers might have the money to opt for more expensive drugs like cocaine — one gram costs 400 shekels (£54) — but often prefer to stay on what they perceive as the right side of the law.
“Sniffing coke has a criminal feel to it,” Valdman says. “And though hagigat-sniffing produces a very similar physical effect to coke — you feel focused, very self-centred, narcissist and chatty — the unpleasant notion of a criminal activity is not attached to it.”
He adds: “The pitzutziot drugs reached their peak in popularity a couple of years ago. Now, you can’t get it everywhere, but on party nights there’s a pilgrimage to the kiosks that still sell them. It’s also not necessarily a youth drug — some of the trendiest figures in town use hagigat at parties. In addition, many people use it on a daily basis, in order to face stress and anxieties, as it increases your confidence.”
Gal, 35, a Tel Aviv resident “involved in the music industry”, was a keen consumer of the original hagigat. “People sniffed it everywhere, as it was legal. Its effect was somewhere between coke and ecstasy — raising your self-esteem and keeping you wide awake.”
He finally dropped the habit last year after an unpleasant experience with one of the new cathinone derivatives. “The original hagigat’s side-effect was a sort of a strong hangover — your muscles and bones ached and became stiff. Calcium food additives eased this rebound, but proved useless with the drugs that replaced hagigat. The Rakkefet and the Sherry [versions] scorched the nostrils, and their appearance — at the end of the night, the white powder a turned into a sticky yellow-brown substance — seemed really toxic.”
Nevertheless, Gal’s take on kiosk drugs is a positive one.
“Youngsters will always seek drugs,” he says. “In the past, kids of 17 who wanted to get high had to go to dubious places and socialise with sleazy characters. The kiosks are much safer and cleaner outlets, and these drugs are relatively less harmful than much of the junk we consume. No-one of the large group of hagigat users that surrounded me has died, became addicted or was hospitalised.”
Pharmacist Mickey Arieli, head of the pharmaceutical crime unit at the Ministry of Health, has data that contradicts Gal’s rosy view. Around five years ago, he recalls, a 16-year-old boy was hospitalised in Netanya after using hagigat. “That basically rang a bell that something is happening here,” he says.
Arieli tells of “a tablet sold about a year ago that contained a substance which is not in the controlled-drugs law, and basically was a chemical analogue of ecstasy. The police forensic lab found in it a lethal dose of a substance called LG50, that alerted the Ministry of Health, which conducted an investigation in conjunction with hospital emergency units. We found that from January to May 2007 there were 14 deaths of people age 15 to 30 in which this drug was involved. In at least four cases there was only this drug involved. It was at that point that the ministry banned it under the dangerous-drugs law.”
Action by the authorities, he admits, is not always so effective. Whenever they ban a drug — and they do that with every drug they identify in this market — a new derivative takes its place. This will have the same physical effect on the user, but has a slightly different molecular structure, which means it is considered a different substance under law and thus not illegal.
The distributors are “always one step ahead of us”, says Arieli. “A proposed new law that would take into the account all these derivatives is being drafted, but won’t be ready before the end of the year.”
In the meantime, police have developed a new strategy to take the drugs off the streets, in co-operation with Arieli’s Health Ministry team. When as yet unbanned drugs are confiscated from kiosks, the kiosk owners are charged with intent to harm the public, under a public-health law. They can receive jail sentences of up to three years.
Three kiosk owners are already being prosecuted, Arieli says, “and dozens more cases are on their way. There are no convictions yet, but one kiosk was shut, which is a legal precedent.”
Offer Bartov, however, insists that the drug trade is legal. Last month, a Jerusalem district court ordered the police to give him back capsules of a cathinone derivative that they had confiscated his kiosk. Bartov won the case on a technicality — the police failed to press charges against him within six months after their raid. Ironically, the drug is one of the 12 derivatives made illegal this week.
“We kiosk owners will sell whatever is legal,” he says. If cautious buyers ask what to tell the police should they be caught in possession, Bartov says: “You can always say that you bought it at my shop.”
He tried the original hagigat once, when it was still legal. “It didn’t interest me — I’m a beer person.”
Vague as the current legality of the kiosk drug trade is, its future is even hazier. Dr Rachel Bar-Hamburger, head scientist at the Israel Anti-Drug Authority, questions how widespread hagigat drug consumption is. She cites a survey conducted in 2005 — just before the original hagigat was banned — on drug use in Israel. Some six per cent of high-school students aged 12-18, around 33,000 teenagers, admitted using hagigat. But of adults aged 18-40, only 2.6 per cent reported hagigat consumption — “significantly less than cannabis users”, she notes.
She predicts that another, more recent survey will show even lower user numbers. “I don’t think that the proportions of the phenomenon in Israel are as monstrous as sometimes claimed,” she observes. “We’re much more concerned about the 10 per cent of Israelis aged 12-40 who report use of controlled drugs and an excessive alcohol consumption.”
But the authority’s general manager, Haim Messing, takes a very different view. “Drug use among teenagers is on the rise, and I can tell you that amphetamine derivatives which are being sold in the pitzutziot is the segment that worries us most.”
According to a senior police officer at the Israeli police intelligence division, whenever a kiosk drug is banned, it is immediately replaced by new ones, Arieli also doubts that the law can stamp out the trade completely. He explains that substances are imported or smuggled in the shape of powder, then made into capsules in local backyards — very difficult to detect; although he recalls a case in which officials confiscated three million empty capsules imported from China by a single distributor.
Still, Itay Valdman believes a concerted effort by the authorities could bring about the demise of the kiosks’ drug business.
“If a draconian law created a situation where to get a hagigat you’d have to make the same efforts you make in purchasing cocaine, no one would bother. It’s not that good.”
Ok kids, can we see what is wrong with that last statement?
It means that they *will* opt for coke instead, thus pointing them in the direction of *real* undesirable types. Happy now?
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