Pre-teen addict face of China's drug war
He talks like a grownup, swops cigarettes with them, he swears and curses, and he's a heroin junkie. But worst of all is that Xiao Chao is only 12-years old. "These are the bad habits of an adult," he once told his psychologist. "I'm only a teenager. I should have the bad habits of a kid. I envy those children."
Xiao Chao (not his real name) is a patient—the youngest—at the Chenzhou Mental Hospital in Hunan Province, China, a rehab centre that looks more like a maximum security prison. His story broke in the Xiaoxiang Morning News daily, as part of the paper's coverage on the 'International Day Against Drug Abuse And Illicit Trafficking' on 26th June.
His parents were convicted drug traffickers, and when he was eight he was sent to live with his grandparents. But after they all died and he became an orphan, he was left homeless and alone, forced to abandon school and wander the streets in search of food and shelter.
"One day someone injected me with water from a bottle, and I felt dizzy at first but then I became extremely comfortable like I was flying in the sky," he said. The liquid turned out to be dissolved heroin and his drug addiction struggle began. He was just 10-years old.
He would take heroin four times a day through the veins in his groin, known as "opening a scuttle", one of the most dangerous ways of taking the drug. He turned to cigarettes, smoking pack after pack, to ease the painful withdrawal from the powerful narcotic. But the only thing that would help was to inject more smack into his tiny body.
He became a drug slave for the pushers and dealers, until in March this year when he was arrested by Chenzhou police while trying to score some needles. He said he can't remember how many times he tried to escape their control or when exactly he became completely dependent on drugs.
But his ordeal has left him with a frightening maturity way beyond his years, and his young body scarred and destroyed from the injections.
Getting the monkey off his back has been torturous for Xiao Chao. At times, he would turn extremely violent as he struggles with withdrawal symptoms. Doctors and nurses have to strap him down onto the bed to prevent him from breaking things and hurting himself.
But according to one doctor, Xiao Chao's age is also a plus for him—that and his willpower to quit his addiction. One month into his therapy and he's already gained some weight. He's not out of the woods yet and it's a long road to complete recovery, but he's started dreaming of going back to school and doing things that kids his age should be doing.
"I don't want drugs anymore, I will never take drugs again," he said, sucking on his cigarette and exhaling a big puff of smoke. "But I may end up stealing things again if no one can look after me. Everyone walks a different way. The key is how you are brought up."
Source: China Daily/China News Agency
Published: 2nd July 2012