In March 2023, the Taub Center published a new study, Are We Nearing an Opioid Epidemic in Israel? The authors of the paper, Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, Dr. Yannai Kranzler, and Oren Miron, present the data on consumption of pain medication and its destructive impact. In 2020, Israel was ranked first in the world in terms of opioid consumption (strong narcotic pain medication), among them fentanyl, which is 50 times stronger than heroin, and thus surpassed the US in terms of per capita consumption.
The study caused waves and pushed the subject of addiction to pain medication and consumption levels in Israel to the center of public discourse. Since the publication of the paper, it has received wide public media attention and been presented to decision makers in the Knesset, before the professional staff of the Ministry of Health, as well as in the international community.
Dialogue with policy makers
Since the publication of the paper, Prof. Davidovitch has had a number of meetings with senior members of the Ministry of Health and presented the research to them. Senior ministry members, among them, Ayelet Grinbaum Arizon, Senior Deputy Director General and head of the Strategic and Economic Planning Administration, and Gilad Lawson, Director of the Health Equity Division, were particularly interested in the study and its impact on public health in Israel, and expressed their desire to continue the dialogue alongside advancement of cooperation in fighting the opioid addiction phenomenon.
Also following the publication and the raising of awareness among the public, there was a meeting of the Knesset Health Committee, headed by MK Uriel Busso (Shas), with the heading “Pain Medication Consumption in Israel.” Members of the Knesset and other professionals participated in the meeting which was initiated by MK Orit Farkash Hacohen (National Unity).
Prior to the meeting, the Taub Center paper was circulated to participants as background material. In his opening remarks, MK Busso quoted from the research and presented the main findings as a basis for the discussion. Afterwards, Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, Principal Researcher and Chair of the Taub Center Health Policy Program and one of the paper’s authors, presented the research findings and spoke of the public health implications and its relationship socioeconomic status.
Prof. Davidovitch related to the policy recommendations available today in the healthcare system and the fact that they are not implemented, and outlined before the committee members the necessary steps to advance a system-wide joint policy in healthcare and welfare. These steps include an immediate reduction in the number of prescriptions for opioids alongside encouragement to use safer alternatives; advancement of campaigns to raise public understanding of the dangers and damage involved in opioid use; stressing the danger of addiction and its serious impact on patients and their families; treatment plans that ensure conditions to restore health; and psycho-social support in areas such as nutritional security, family support, stable housing solutions, etc. Prof. Davidovitch called for the development of an overall national plan to deal with this issue including an annual report examining progress in dealing with the phenomenon and the policy implementation trends, similar to the annual report on smoking.
After the presentation, the chairman of the meeting quoted from the Taub Center research and noted the practical steps that other countries experiencing such a crisis have taken that can help the healthcare system in Israel in planning its policy measures.
In the media and the public discourse
The research drew the attention of the media and was mentioned in some 30 media items, including radio and television interviews and items in the written press.
Prof. Davidovitch was interviewed on the subject on the Knesset channel, on different programs on channels 11, 12, and 13, as well by i24NEWS (English language news in Israel).
- To watch the interview with Prof. Nadav Davidovitch on the program “The Pipeline” on channel 13
- To watch the interview with Prof. Nadav Davidovitch by Jacob Eilon, Knesset news anchorman
- To read the article in i24NEWS and to watch the interview with Prof. Nadav Davidovitch
Research findings were surveys and discussed in a wide variety of newspaper articles in Maariv, Globes, YNetnews, The Jerusalem Post, i24NEWS, and in Behadrei Haredim. This contributed to wide exposure of the research to the public. Here are some examples:
Besides interviews with the media, Prof. Davidovitch gave in-depth interviews on podcasts of The Jerusalem Post and a podcast called Wake-Up Call. In these interviews, he gave a deep-dive into the opioid crisis from a variety of perspectives. Among other things, he spoke about the role of pharmaceutical companies in the crisis and mentioned the battles to remove the Sackler family name from the Faculty of Medicine building at Tel Aviv University; he explained that, in general, people begin their opioid journey with a banal incident without being aware of the implications; he related to disparities in opioid consumption among different socioeconomic groups; and finally, he underscored the importance of follow-up on trends and called for the Ministry of Health to publish an annual report on the subject of metrics and data on opioid consumption, like the annual report on smoking.
Removing the Sackler Family name from the Faculty of Medicine building at Tel Aviv University
In June 2023, at the end of a battle of several years, Tel Aviv University announced that the Faculty of Medicine will no longer be named for the Sackler family. The Sackler family were the owners of Purdue Pharma, the producer of oxycontin, noted in the research as one of addictive drugs given to patients in Israel. In removing the family name from the faculty building, Tel Aviv University joins a long list of academic and cultural institutions that are distancing themselves from the family due to its role in creating the opioid addiction crisis in the US and other countries around the world. In interviews given by Prof. Davidovitch following the publishing of his research, he noted the struggle and called to remove the family name from the university’s institutions. Although the debate went on for a number of years, it is hoped that the Taub Center research and the actions of Prof. Davidovitch have strengthened the public’s awareness of the subject in Israel and helped spur the relevant agencies to take action at Tel Aviv University.