This Doctor Says He Can Cure Heroin Addicts by Putting Them in a Coma
Muhammad had many good reasons for being pissed off. He was far from home, his arm was bleeding, and he’d recently come out of a coma. The stranger asking about his heroin addiction probably didn’t help. But he had already tried drug clinics in France, Spain, Italy, and Turkey, and none of them had worked. He’d come to Kyrgyzstan because he thought it was his last chance.
He’d traveled from Algiers based on the reputation of the Nazaraliev Medical Center, a private clinic near Bishkek. The center claims that 80 percent of its patients stay drug free for at least a year after receiving treatment there. Many of those it treats come from Russia or the former Soviet Union, but there’s no shortage of domestic customers. Heroin use has drastically increased in Kyrgyzstan over the last decade. The last official estimate, in 2006, put the number of intravenous drug users in the country at 26,000. According to Dr. Alexander Zelichenko, Director of the Central Asian Center on Drug Policy, there may now be around 100,000 users in a country with a population just below 5.6 million.
The dangers of smoking are no secret in the U.S., but in Indonesia, the tobacco industry is virtually unregulated. The result? Over two-thirds of all men are smokers, and it is commonplace for children as young as six to take up the habit. Tobacco is a $100 billion industry here, with TV and print ads everywhere. Investigating this phenomenon in Malang, VICE visits a clinic that promises cures to a plethora of modern ailments through tobacco and smoking — with our intrepid correspondent getting the full smoke-therapy treatment.
Segment 2: Underground Heroin Clinic
Heroin is the most addictive drug on earth, and some people will do anything to kick the habit. Enter Ibogaine — a drug made out of the African iboga root, whose intense, hallucinogenic properties make it a Type-A felony drug. But many swear it’s the most effective way to kick heroin addiction — especially when combined with a voodoo-type ritual that involves face paint and chanting. VICE follows the journey of a heroin addict who travels to Mexico, where Ibogaine is legal, to try to finally quit.
The last time I ran into Philip was at Bar Centrale, a theater restaurant, when he came in with a group that included Chris Rock, Zach Braff, and a bunch of great stage actors. At the time, I had read that Philip had gone to rehab for heroin. I was shocked, because you don’t think that a person who absolutely everyone acknowledges as great, would have such problems. But that was foolish, because addiction cares nothing for personality. It is an illness, not a matter of will, class, intelligence, or lifestyle. I have no idea what happened to Phil before he was found dead, but a friend of mine told me they saw him the day before he passed and he looked happy. This says to me that Philip was not someone who had given up. He didn’t throw it all away. He was just someone—a very special someone—who was sick. His death is shocking to us because his greatness made him seem invincible. At the very least, all the incredible art he gave us should warrant him another chance.
When people talk about ending the drug war, they usually mean “no one should go to prison for marijuana.” There’s no doubt the public has shifted its collective opinion on pot—currently, a majority of Americans believe it should be as legal, regulated, and taxed as tobacco and alcohol—and naturally, politicians are beginning to sense the way the wind is blowing. But elected officials, like people at large, are less gun-ho about legalizing the harder drugs.
First, let’s clarify that no one is recommending that we all follow Philip Seymour Hoffman’sexample and start shooting up. Heroin is awful. Don’t do heroin. It fucks up your life. But as the case of the fentanyl-cut heroin that has killed 22 people in Pittsburgh illustrates, the only thing worse than legal heroin is illegal heroin.
In the aftermath of Hoffman’s death, Jeff Deeney, a former drug addict who now works as a social worker, wrote a piece in the Atlantic that calls for treating heroin like a health issue, not a criminal act. All the nasty effects of this drug—and all the reasons not to do it—are magnified by the threat of prison, the stigma that leads to shame and secrecy, and the increased of HIV and infection that comes with sharing needles. According to Deeney, if Hoffman had access to a space where it was legal to shoot heroin and where doctors could supervise users, he might still be alive. Why doesn’t the US have any such sites, though Vancouver, Canada, does? Why the hell isn’t Naloxone, the much-touted miracle drug that stops opioid overdoses, not available over the counter? Why isn’t it passed out in urban health clinics like candy? Out of the 1.5 million peoplearrested for drug crimes in 2012, 82 percent were for possession, and 16.5 percent of those were for cocaine, heroin, or associated drugs. Did those arrests do anyone any good?
One reason legalizing pot is more popular than legalizing heroin is that far more people smoke than shoot. At least 100 million people in the US have done marijuana, while the number of frequent heroin users has stayed under half a million for decades. But use (which isn’t necessarily addiction) has nearly doubled since 2007—one survey calculated that 669,000 Americans had done heroin in 2012, compared with 373,000 in 2007. (This may be because some former pill addicts move on to heroin, as Hoffman did).
That’s what prohibition (which includes policies that levy draconian punishments for pill possession) does—it causes rippling effects in human behavior. It does not stop drug use, though it may change a user’s drug of choice. Regardless, it’s time to give up trying to scare addicts into getting healthy and do what Portugal did in 2001 and decriminalize all drugs. Laws can’t stop people from using drugs, they can only make drug use a more harrowing experience for addicts who have to deal with jail time and police harassment and products that, thanks to a lack of oversight, may contain dangerous chemicals.
This country needs to grow up and realize that the legal system is a hammer, and drug users and addicts are not nails. End the drug war. End it all.
Over the past decade, prescription pills have become the latest drug-epidemic bogeyman. A study published earlier this year claimed that one in four American teenagers have misused medications at least once—a 33 percent increase from 2008—and OxyContin has been leading the charge. The painkiller’s active ingredient, oxycodone, gives users a feel-good high similar to heroin and is much easier to score than other hard drugs. But how did it get so popular in the first place?
Drunken Glory: Former Addicts in Minneapolis Are Getting Wasted on the Glory of God
God is descending on Minneapolis in the form of invisible spliffs and imaginary lines of coke. The Drunken Glory movement—spawned by events like the Florida Outpouring and Toronto Blessing in the 90s, at which people appeared to be inebriated and high purely off the power of God—is on the rise, as godly YouTube channels find innovative ways of reaching their younger audience.
One of those channels, Red Letter Ministries, is run by former meth addict Brandon Barthrop. We went to Brandon’s hometown of Minneapolis, which boasts the largest concentration of drug addicts and churches in America, to try to get high on the glory of God.
Brandon and his posse of waifs, strays, and former addicts spend their days sniffing “diamond oil” and tripping out to the sound of Brandon’s YouTube preaching. Christian EDM DJs down the road are going to raves and attempting to “heal” clubbers high on drugs, and mega-churches run by rehab charities like Teen Challenge are preaching the drunken glory to thousands.
Inside the Heroin Epidemic Sweeping Through Vermont
One Saturday afternoon this fall, the two of us drove toward Burlington, Vermont, on a narrow highway that snakes through the Green Mountains. Rolling fields gave way to hardwood forests, maple trees aflame with red and orange leaves—the kind of bucolic scenery that brings in nearly 14 million tourists and $1.7 billion of their money every year. Our destination was a small farm in Colchester that looks like something right out of a postcard: a red barn, a sign that said “Community Pig Roast,” even chickens and dogs running around in the yard.
Josh was waiting for us at a table on the porch in a flat-brim hat and hoodie. He’s a Vermonter born and bred, a 23-year-old with an easygoing stoner charisma familiar to anyone who grew up in the area. The stories he told, on the other hand, sound like they could have come out of the worst drug- and crime-infested neighborhoods of a big city.
He’s run heroin to Vermont from New Jersey six times in the last 18 months. His suppliers hand Josh 25 bricks of the stuff and tell them it’s his responsibility until he gets to Vermont and to “hide it good.” Heroin is much cheaper in the big cities to the south than it is in the Green Mountain State, and Josh takes full advantage of this—he can make $600 off of $10 worth of the raw he buys. He doesn’t have much in the way of professional ethics. “I’ve ripped people off by throwing hot cocoa in an empty bag,” he told us. “Scoop a little dirt off the ground and throw that in there, dude.”