Columban Sr. Mary Dillon recounts one man’s descent into hell through heroin addiction and
how the Hope Centre in Myitkyina is helping him get back on his feet.
Myint Saung was born in a very small village in middle Myanmar 38 years ago. His primary education came to an abrupt end when he was eleven years old because his father died and his mother was left to provide for eight young children. Life for an uneducated young man in a rural area of Myanmar in the eighties was very harsh and oppressive, with very little or no opportunity for anyone seeking to create a life for himself.
Myint Saung worked as a casual labourer out in the fields in the scorching sun hoping to be able to provide some rice and basic nutrition for himself and his family, but this was next to impossible. As time wore on he became disillusioned and in 2007 followed some of his friends to where ‘easy money’ could be made. The amber mines of Tanai (northern Kachin State) were promising. He did earn some money, some months $100 or more.
Not long after he began to work at the mines he was introduced to heroin by his friends. At first it was an activity that gave him pleasure but with the passing of time he could not live without a fix every day. He tells how once he was able to spend $1,400 on what he called a rice-bowl quantity of heroin; this lasted only ten days as his craving was so intense. Like the majority of people there who inject drugs, he shared needles with friends, unconcerned about the possibility of contracting HIV and Hepatitis C. “My body was asking for the drug, I could not think about the possibility of disease.” In Kachin State, 38% of intravenous drug users are HIV positive, seven out of every ten drug users have Hepatitis C and about 50% will develop tuberculosis.
By December 2015, Myint Saung had serious health difficulties and could just about sit around, have his fix and sleep. He had lost his job, he was homeless and penniless. He stayed close to his buddies and they provided the heroin. One day as he was ‘shooting up’ he was attacked by four men who beat him up and dragged him away to a shelter. This shelter turned out to be what they refer to here in Kachin State as a Pat Jasan detention shelter. Communities in Kachin State have launched a people’s war on drugs known as Pat Jasan. They have taken the law into their own hands and arrest and beat drug users and put them into forced treatment camps. It was into one of these overcrowded bamboo camps that Myint Saung was taken that night; he shared space with thirty other drug-dependent men like himself.
Myint Saung’s stay at the camp was short-lived; he suffered excruciating pain from heroin withdrawal symptoms including diarrhoea, fever and extreme weakness. He was so emaciated that he could not walk. After about ten days there, two men took him and left him on the side of a public road to die. Luckily some of his friends heard and, at a risk to their lives, brought him to a small clinic run by the KIO (Kachin Independent Organisation). He was treated there and one week later was referred to the MSF clinic in the town of Myitkyina.
Myint Saung arrived at the door of the Hope Centre in December 2015 and he is still in residence today. Physically and mentally he was exhausted, bewildered and felt completely alone and lost. His face was that of an old man. He hardly spoke but I could sense that he felt himself in a very dark and frightening place. Like many of our residents, he slowly, after many setbacks, turned a corner. He began to interact with the others and share in the daily life at the home.
Will Myint Saung return to ‘drugs’? He has many, many regrets. Worst of all, he has lost contact with his family, he doesn’t know where they are. But he hopes that with time he will have the courage to reconnect with them. “Heroin is like a curse,” he says. “Society treats drug-users like scum.” He knows his drug-habit has permanently damaged him physically as he now has liver problems and will be on HIV medication for the rest of his life. But still, that little flame of hope carries Myint Saung forward; we pray that one day he will be reconciled with his people and find his home again.
“Heroin is like curse.
Society treats drug-users
Sr. Mary Dillon from Cooraclare, Co. Clare has been in Myanmar for the last fourteen years. Previously she was on mission in Korea for over twenty years.
With help from generous benefactors she set up the Hope Centre in Myitkyina for people like Myint Saung, people with no hope, to bring them hope and healing.