social science

Recovery is the same all over

The Youth for Christ Center in Myanmar provides food, shelter, safety, rest, Bible study and singing, free of charge, for 40 days to a maximum of three months.

Via Reuters, Photos of the Week: Faith healing for addicts6 July 2013:

Myanmar is the world’s second-largest producer of opium. Heroin abuse is widespread. The center’s popularity is a testament both to the severity of Myanmar’s drug problem and the lack of options in a poor country where modern treatment programs are rare. It offers prayer, Bible study and devotional singing, with football and weightlifting for those strong enough.

The text, above, accompanies an expressive, compassionately photographed gallery of ten images featured in Reuters Online, “Photos of the Week”.  Subjects were portrayed honestly and sensitively.

Myanmar versus Manhattan

Faith-healing has connotations of superstition and ignorance. Here, it should not.

Despite public perception, and some of the nuanced annotations accompanying the Reuters photographs, treatment for heroin addiction is comparable, regardless of wealth or poverty. “Modern treatment programs” are quite similar to what is offered by the Youth for Christ Center in Myanmar, specifically, bed rest, mild food, emotional and psychological support and the company of others in recovery.

In fact, the option of remaining in treatment for 40 days to as long as three months is rarely, if ever, available in the U.S.A.

To their credit, Reuters does not sensationalize the first week spent in confinement in Myanmar.

Other sources refer to it as “behind locked doors”, “behind bars” or worse. Those who do so neglect to mention that heroin and most other addictive drug detoxification program in the U.S.A., Europe and Australia have the same protocol. If you leave the facility during the first five days, or week, you are choosing to leave the program. Should one wish to return, the entire intake process, including determination of eligibility, must be re-initiated. Given scarce resources, one may be denied because of prior behavior, in favor of someone who has never entered treatment.

In Myanmar, palliative measures e.g. over-the-counter remedies to ameliorate the symptoms of withdrawal such as Motrin (ibuprofen), Imodium (loperamide) and Benadryl (diphenhydramine) are not available to patients. These are important and helpful for relieving some of the misery of heroin detoxification, and are offered at Western treatment facilities.

Many heroin in-patient detoxification programs in the USA and Europe administer some combination of the following: clonidine for elevated blood pressure; pharmaceutical opiates in quickly tapering doses for 3 to 7 days; older (possibly not SSRI) anti-depressants such as Elavil or Trazadone to alleviate severe withdrawal symptoms. These measures, as well as a licensed medical caregiver’s supervision, constitute the greater portion of the modern treatment to which the Reuters text referred.

Heroin addiction treatment in Myanmar is superior to detoxification experienced while incarcerated in any jail or prison in the world. 

What about maintenance?

Yes, there is methadone, which may be used for detoxification, but more often is used as “maintenance”. It is not part of a short-term inpatient treatment program.  Instead, it helps those who have tried and failed, repeatedly to recover from addiction. Methadone maintenance is appropriate, even life-saving, in such situations. It is used as a therapeutic measure for opiate addiction throughout the developed world, though less in the U.S.A. 

Recovery is not location dependent

Recovery is difficult for everyone. There are no pratical alternatives to the grueling process of heroin detoxification. Recidivism is a major obstacle to complete recovery. Offering the equivalent of in-patient care for up to three months in Myanmar is remarkable, and likely to improve long-term prognosis.

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