Caixin
SOCIETY & CULTURE

Women at Rehab Center Struggle to Move Past Addiction

The brightly painted walls and sky-blue uniforms at Sichuan province’s only Compulsory Isolated Drug Rehabilitation Center for women belie the troubled personal histories of many who live there.

A resident surnamed He, who is receiving treatment for her methamphetamine addiction, said she began abusing drugs after her abusive marriage fell apart. Her ex-husband, whom she had married against her parents’ wishes, was a gambling addict who neglected their daughter and violently assaulted He at the slightest provocation, He said.

She eventually divorced her husband, but continued to struggle with the emotional toll her marriage had taken on her. Some of her acquaintances used methamphetamine, and He noticed that the drug eventually caused memory loss. She also began using the stimulant, which she quickly became addicted to. “I thought it would be nice if I could forget my suffering,” He said.

Fellow resident Zhao, whose legs are covered in scars from years of intravenously injecting drugs, said she and her late husband both struggled with addiction. Zhao’s father, who found out about his daughter’s drug addiction only after her husband died, tried various detoxification programs to get his daughter clean. But without adequate supervision and scientific methods, her father’s efforts failed, and Zhao was still abusing drugs when her husband died in a nursing home, she told Caixin, holding back tears.

Zhao and He, like the other residents, were placed in the facility by law enforcement departments as part of a national drug rehabilitation system introduced in 2008. Under the Anti-Drug Law, introduced in 2008, public security authorities are allowed to order suspected illegal drug users isolated for treatment for up to two years.

The new law was intended to replace an outdated system that treated drug addiction as a purely criminal behavior rather than as a condition requiring medical treatment, although some local governments have in recent years faced criticism for uneven adherence to the new law’s “people-oriented” approach.

In the Sichuan women’s facility, life appears to be peaceful and orderly for the residents, who take part in enrichment classes as diverse as vocational training, yoga and performing arts.

During Caixin’s visit earlier in June, residents were busy rehearsing for a performance to mark the United Nations’ International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, which on June 26. The lines spoken at the rehearsal expressed the one emotion most of the facility’s falls residents shared — regret. “I finally know what it means when they say you can’t serve your parents after they’ve passed away,” one performer said. “Mom, I’m full of regret. How I wish I could have one more chance to show you filial piety!”

The performers, aged 19 to 30, belonged to the facility’s performing arts class. Some of them, unlike the older Zhao, have some hope of spending time with their parents, drug-free, after their release from the facility.

A 19-year-old surnamed Zhong became addicted to methamphetamine at the age of 14 after she first tried the drug, which some of her friends were using, out of curiosity. Her mother, who had been raising Zhong on her own after divorcing Zhong’s father, found out about her daughter’s addiction only after Zhong was ordered to check into the rehabilitation facility.

Life in the facility is structured and engaging, but all residents must eventually leave and re-enter the outside world, where many face dim prospects and risk a relapse. Officers from the rehabilitation facility frequently visit former residents and continuously monitor them in an effort to keep the likelihood of relapse low, but drug rehabilitation programs have always struggled with the “old and difficult problem” of relapse, said Xiong Yuzhu, the director of education at the Sichuan women’s facility.

A resident surnamed Yang, also 19, is one of the most promising residents at the facility. Enthusiastic about performing arts, she has also been appointed class leader in her yoga class. An uncle has arranged work for Yang after her release, so she is less worried about her future than some of her fellow residents are.

Another resident, who declined to give her name, said she hoped to become a nanny or a housekeeper after leaving. “I’m an excellent cook, and I’m especially good at taking care of people,” she said.

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Every new resident must undergo a comprehensive health check, including blood tests and X-rays. Under China’s national drug rehabilitation policy, law enforcement officers have the power to order suspected drug users to spend years in rehabilitation facilities.


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Zhao, 47, wipes away tears as she talks about her father, who died before she could get clean, which was his greatest wish.


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Three residents, each of whom had abused drugs for more than 10 years, show reporters the scars on their legs from repeated intravenous injections.


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A resident’s father cries as he speaks to his daughter in the facility’s visiting area.


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Residents who have been assigned jobs in the facility’s cafeteria perform exercises after dinner. Only residents who have passed a health check and have no history of disease are allowed to work in the cafeteria.


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Members of the facility’s handicrafts group show off the clay models of household appliances and furniture they have made.


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Two members from the facility’s performing arts group rest on June 13 in between rehearsals for a performance to mark the United Nations’ International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, which falls on June 26 each year. Family members and former residents were invited to watch the performance.


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A woman surnamed Ou, right, is released from the facility on June 13. Her mother, left, picked her up that day, bringing Ou her first new set of clothes after spending months dressed in the facility’s uniform.


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Residents are reflected in a puddle while doing post-dinner exercises on June 11.

Contact reporter Teng Jing Xuan (jingxuanteng@caixin.com)
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