Syringes Used As Currency In Heroin-Addicted Myanmar

By Brent McCluskey 10/31/14

Heroin sells for as little as one dollar and every home has an addict.

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The heroin epidemic in Myanmar, a country that borders China, has become so severe that syringes are now being used as a form of currency.

Myanmar is so plagued by heroin that shopkeepers often dispense clean hypodermic needles and sterile water in lieu of change. Nearly every home has at least one addict, and the lack of an effective police force means drug use runs rampant and unchecked. 

“Where we live, police can barely reach us. So people make up the law themselves,” said Esther, 61. “In many villages every home contains an addict. We all have personal tragedies. My husband and son got hooked and sold everything in the house, even bags of rice.”

Myanmar has been ravaged by war and guerrilla armies now control much of the country’s northern jungles, where opium is produced in massive quantities. Heroin runs so freely through the hills that a single dose sells for as little as $1, likely contributing to the estimated 80% addiction rate in Kachin State’s youth.

Anyone in Myanmar looking to score heroin doesn’t have to go far. The drug is sold as openly as local produce and used hypodermic needles are discarded nearly everywhere, from the streets to the steps of college campuses.

While many of the residents are hooked on the addictive substance, jungle detox camps, run by evangelical Christians, offer some reprieve for those looking to come clean.

According to James Naw, an ex-addict who now works as a rehab counselor in Kachin State, addicts are locked in cages during withdrawal to prevent them from running away and scoring more heroin. “The world is a blur,” Naw recalls of his own withdrawal from the powerfully addictive drug. “Even the breeze hurts. You’ll do anything for more.”

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Brent McCluskey is a Social Media Editor at International Business Times as well as a Jedi with Sith tendencies.  He is also a reader of books, slayer of dragons, and level 80 mage.

“Yeah, I have a broad skill set. If I had to pick between being a Divergent or a wizard, I'd pick a wizard.”  His wizardness can be found on Twitter and Linkedin.