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.
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.
If the War on Drugs Is Failing, Where’d All the Cocaine Go?
Toward the end of last year, the DEA published its 2013 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary, a 28-page report chronicling drug consumption trends across the United States. These include the continued rise in abuse of prescription drugs (second only to marijuana in popularity), the increase in the production of heroin in Mexico and its availability in the U.S., and the emergence of synthetic designer drugs.
Much of the report is unremarkable—until you arrive at the section on cocaine. “According to [National Seizure System] data,” it reads, “approximately 16,908 kilograms of cocaine were seized at the southwest Border in 2011. During 2012, only 7,143 kilograms of cocaine were seized, a decrease of 58 percent.”
That sharp decline echoes an ongoing trend: 40 percent fewer people in the United States used cocaine in 2012 than they did in 2006; only 19 percent of Chicago arrestees had cocaine in their system two years ago compared to 50 percent in 2000; and less high school seniors say they’ve used cocaine in the last 12 months than at any time since the mid-70s. In fact, the report indicates cocaine was sporadically unavailable in Chicago, Houston, Baltimore, and St. Louis in the spring of 2012. So where’d the blow go?
Silk Road 2.0, the successor to the deep web’s most infamous marketplace, just passed a new milestone. Despite a dramatic holiday season, when three of its staff and several vendors were arrested on conspiracy charges, there are now over 10,000 narcotics listings on its pixelated shelves. And, according to its acting administrator “Defcon”, traffic to the website has doubled since December.
So it appears that the site—where you can anonymously get your hands on pretty much any substance you want, as well as a bunch of other illegal stuff that you’d usually need Turkish mob connections to access—is just as resilient to the feds as its current ownershad promised it would be.
And far from the digital trap house many have depicted it to be, Silk Road 2.0 has continued its predecessor’s aim of allowing drug users to make informed decisions about their use of psychoactive substances, both by providing products that are open to quality checks and through the spread of honest information about how to take those products as safely as possible.
This Guy Is Mapping London’s Drug Use with a Discarded Baggie Map
What do you do with your leftover drug paraphernalia? Unless you’re one of those ambitious stoner hoarders who insists on keeping stems for pots of weed tea you’ll never brew, chances are you throw everything away. And if you’re homeless—or someone who enjoys getting high around strangers, or in parks—it’s likely you chuck your empty baggies on the floor or into a bush, kindly leaving them for 10-year-olds to bring into school and use as props in stories about their fictional weekend exploits.
Since January of this year, photographer Dan Giannopoulos has been taking photos of all the discarded baggies he finds throughout south-east London. He’s also been jotting down their geographic coordinates with the aim of eventually mapping out all the bags he’s found and working out whether any patterns emerge. I had a quick chat with Dan about his project.
A map we made out of the baggie coordinates that Dan has gathered so far (Click to enlarge)
VICE: Hey Dan. So far, what has the project taught you about Londoners’ drug use? Dan Giannopoulos: I’ve been working on it since about January this year, and I haven’t had a chance to map everything fully yet, so at the moment it’s isolated to south-east London. But I tend to find more bags in more of the working-class areas I’ve been to—the kind of areas that have a reputation for drug use. But then I’ve had bags show up in places like Blackheath, which is quite a posh area. It’s quite random at the moment, but I was going to carry on working on it for a year or so and map any patterns that show up.
Is there a variation of drugs between those areas? It tends to be more weed around the well-to-do areas.
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.”
Ireland Must Act to Combat Its Growing Heroin Problem
In the early 1980s, a man named Tony “King Scum" Felloni began importing large quantities of heroin into the Republic of Ireland. The drug quickly began to work its way into daily life in Dublin’s working-class areas, and thanks to its relatively addictive nature it has remained wildly popular. Take a walk down certain streets in Dublin and you’ll get a pretty good indicator of its prevalence in the capital.
Unfortunately, the government’s plans for treating heroin addiction nowadays appear to be much the same as they were in the 80s: almost nonexistent. The government at the time paid very little attention to the problem, and—despite the implementation of new, progressive harm reduction laws in other European countries—Ireland’s attitudes are still very much lingering in the decade of fax machines and Billy Idol.
According to the 2012 annual report by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Ireland has the highest number of heroin users per capita in Europe. They claim that seven people in every thousand are addicted to the drug, which translates to roughly 30,000 Irish citizens. Worryingly, Ireland also has the third highest death rate from drug use in Europe, behind only Norway and Estonia. The EU average is 21 deaths per million people; for Ireland, it’s 68 per million.
VICE: How did the series begin? Lincoln Clarkes: Leah, a solid friend who died in 1999 of a heroin overdose, introduced me to that addicted subculture. We frequently ran into each other for near a decade, she was usually engulfed in bizarre, surreal situations. But it all started the summer morning of meeting Patricia Johnson, who eventually went missing, and her two girlfriends. When photographing the trio, it became a Film Noir episode of drama. The portrait of them strung out on the steps of the Evergreen Hotel on Columbia St. brought me to my knees and made friends cry. I willingly slid into the new obsession of documenting at that point, in the vein of Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis, portraying social injustice and calling attention to the plight of addicted women. Within a few months the whole country was welling up with tears, and the police finally noticed.
Was it difficult to gain access to these women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside? Everybody is suspicious in the heroin/crack ghetto, but it’s also a friendly place. When walking into those streets and alleys you’re really walking into their living room, dining room, and bedroom. During this series a female assistant usually accompanied me, someone the Heroines would find amusing and a joy to meet, and who really cared about their situation, giving them apples, applying band-aids, lighting their cigarettes, etc. We would always try to make them laugh, or they would tell us some sordid sad story. Getting the skinny of what was going down in the ‘hood or with them, they opened-up like butterflies to us and became very generous. We made a point of giving every one of them a picture of themselves, and promised that we would not divulge their identity, unless they died.