China (Christian Aid Mission) — [EDITOR’S NOTE: Christian Aid Mission’s Brittany Tedesco shares this story of how addiction to heroin is on the rise in parts of China.]
Ready for a startling statistic? “Deaths from heroin-related overdoses nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013.” This came from a CNN article published in July.
The skyrocketing use of heroin in the U.S. isn’t just among shady back-alley dwellers. “Some of the highest increases were in groups with historically low rates of abuse: women, people with higher incomes, and people who are privately insured,” the article states.
Why is this happening?
The article very clinically goes on to answer this question by listing two factors: heroin is “cheaper and more widely available” than other drugs, and people who’ve been prescribed opiates such as morphine or codeine are more likely to become heroin addicts.
In other words, the environment was just right for certain people to become addicts.
A few weeks ago, a ministry leader from China visited Christian Aid Mission. Part of his outreach is to marginalized tribal groups like the Yi.
He explained that more than 80% of Yi men over the age of 23 are in jail because of heroin-related drug crimes. An extremely disproportionate number of Yi have HIV/AIDS. You wouldn’t want to walk through Yi villages without wearing special boots, he said, because of the hypodermic needles covering the ground.
Why has this happened to the Yi?
In a way, you could say the conditions were right–a veritable perfect storm, unfortunately.
A poor minority group with their own separate language, the Yi have few occupations available to them other than farming.
Sometime around the 1980s, the Yi youth ventured out of their communities to look for jobs in cities dominated by the Han majority. They quickly discovered just how few opportunities, other than low-status jobs, were available to uneducated tribal minorities who speak a foreign language. They also discovered heroin.
Not only did the drug provide a way for them to temporarily “escape” from their problems, trafficking heroin also became a quick and easy way for them to earn cash.
The Yi live in Southwest China, in close proximity to the Golden Triangle–an area overlapping Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand that is second only to Afghanistan as the world’s largest producer of heroin.
It wasn’t long before drug addiction and AIDS overtook the Yi men.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, citizens were initially jubilant and optimistic about a bright future. But in the years that followed, extreme poverty, rampant corruption, and high unemployment were the reality the disillusioned masses were forced to accept, yet many refused to accept it. Breakdowns in family structure became the norm as many turned to drugs and alcohol to escape their grim existence. Heroin use exploded.
The countries of Central Asia, which had developed at a slower pace than other parts of the Soviet Union, depended upon investment by the central government to compensate for the lack of growth. A significant drop in living standards was experienced by Central Asians after the breakup of the USSR.
The transition from a centrally planned market economy meant the end of the system of guaranteed employment enjoyed throughout Central Asia. In search of employment, many migrated from rural areas to cities and town. But finding few opportunities, a large number were coerced into joining the underground economy, commercial sex trade, or drug trafficking.
Once the borders of the Central Asian republics were opened, drug trafficking sharply increased. Higher levels of unemployment, divorce, crime, and disease followed the increased level of drug usage. The number of AIDS victims also rose. By 2000, HIV cases had been identified in all provinces of Kazakhstan.
Once again, a large group of people taken captive by the environmental factors in their lives.
The numbers could creep up even further in the next few years, but they don’t have to.
What Christian Aid Mission is doing
Christian Aid Mission supports Christian rehab centers like New Birth Garden in Yunnan Province, China.
Xu, a drug user for eight years, discovered Christ there. Of the government treatment centers he’d previously tried, he said, “These places did not change me. Instead, they made me feel worse, and I was more addicted than ever.”
Secular programs pale in comparison to what the Spirit of Christ can do for a person by completely freeing them from being controlled by the very sin nature that is causing them to be drawn to drugs in the first place.
Xu is now free of his addiction–and what’s more, he’s received the Spirit of Christ who has filled him with hope and given him a reason to be joyful.
Christian Aid Mission supports a ministry in Kazakhstan that runs five rehabilitation centers for men addicted to narcotics and alcohol. Of those who have completed the program, the ministry leader writes that they “have returned to their hometowns completely changed, and many have been reunited with their families and spouses and are today servants of Christ in their local churches and also in our rehabilitation ministry.”
Pray for those addicted to drugs, alcohol, or any substance that is harmful to find Jesus.