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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Hydro: the drug epidemic sweeping through the West Bank

A drug epidemic has swept through the region, tearing communities apart on both Palestinian and Israeli sides.

Ross Kemp reported from the West Bank about the terrible damage being done to communities by the drug Hydro
Ross Kemp reported from the West Bank about the terrible damage being done to communities by the drug Hydro

Conflict, poverty and political instability. If life on the West Bank wasn’t hard enough for citizens, a new threat is blighting what little harmony exists there.

A drug epidemic has swept through the region, tearing communities apart on both Palestinian and Israeli sides.

Hydro, a powerful synthetic drug which mimics marijuana, is more potent than its organic derivative and, arguably, more dangerous as the addiction rate is higher and long-term health effects are unknown.

The drug problem sweeping the region is the subject of a new documentary in Ross Kemp’s Extreme World series.

On Monday, the day after the episode was first aired on Sky One, the TV star, and former EastEnders actor, joined a debate at London’s Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, to discuss the issues it raised.

In making the film, Kemp visited East Jerusalem and the West Bank to meet with users and dealers before heading to Israel’s most notorious smuggling routes.

In one sobering scene, Kemp speaks with a drugs counsellor called Ibrahim who works at a treatment centre on the West Bank. He reveals the extent of the destruction this drug has on addicts and the wider community.

“The level of drug use today is really scary. It increases day by day. The seriousness of these drugs is like a nuclear bomb. Like dropping a nuclear bomb on a small country,” he tells Kemp.

“Treatment for addiction can last from one month to a year, The problem starts when they finish the treatment. We have no social institutions to look after them and provide them with job opportunities. People just start smoking again.”

Likening the drug’s fall-out to that of Hiroshima, he adds: “About 80 per cent of people who use Hydro and then get married report to me that they have had deformed babies.”

Despite the best efforts of officials to control the flow of drugs, a lack of effective policing in the region - hampered by complicated security arrangements across the three administrative areas of West Bank - means the epidemic has spiralled out of control.

With police forces unable to work together, and a fractious political climate blighting the landscape, it has been left to communities to find a solution to the complex problem.

Locals who fear a generation of young people is being lost to addiction in the region have taken matters into their own hands.

The documentary gains unrivalled access to addicts, their families and the wider society, and reveals how tribal vigilante groups are taking the law into their own hands.

It also raises serious questions over the need for Israeli and Palestinian police and security agencies to rise above their differences and work together to drive the epidemic from the region.

Describing this documentary as one of the best episodes in his Extreme World series, Kemp say: “No one has told this story yet. We are one of the first teams to investigate this issue.

“This stuff was legal in the UK. If the causes are not challenged or changed people will become addicted again after rehab.”

Hydro first emerged in the U.S. as a “legal high” in the early 2000s. And while its use thereafter declined significantly “Stateside”, it resurfaced in Israel where, at first, it was sold in kiosks legally.

Its sale was outlawed in 2013, but by then its use had spread to the Palestinian territories leaving authorities unable to contain the problem.