The heroin crisis is only getting worse - on a global level. Now, some addicts are turning to alternative types of treatment in order to kick the habit. Some are even turning to rocks and stones.
In the town of Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, rocks have become part of a heroin addiction treatment method known as lithotherapy. In the town, a surprising number of people talk to rocks about their struggles with addiction.
Bishkek is located near the well-traveled heroin-smuggling routes between Afghanistan and Russia and deep into Europe.
The Nazaraliev Medical Center is a clinic that pioneered the approach several years ago.
While the whole concept of speaking to rocks seems silly, treating heroin addiction in Kyrgyzstan and in former Soviet countries has become incredibly urgent as addiction rates continue to rise.
Doctors at the clinic determined early on that men from a conservative Muslim culture were very reluctant to admit their struggles with addiction in a group therapy setting. But, the doctors determined that people had a much easier time opening up to inanimate objects such as rocks.
As a result, the Nazaraliev clinic, which treats mostly men from Russia, Central Asia and Arab countries, began using lithotherapy about ten years ago, when a flood of heroin streamed out of Afghanistan.
Fearing that destroying and banning opium fields would outrage Afghan farmers and turn them toward the Taliban, the United States military tolerated the cultivation. The business and methods of growing poppies boomed.
According to the United Nations’ annual drug report, the opium cultivation in 2014 reached the highest level worldwide since the late 1930s. Approximately 85% of the opium was grown in Afghanistan.
Georgy Kavtaradze, who runs an outreach program for addicts, states that heroin is so readily available in Bishkek, that “it’s like buying sesame seeds.”
Psychologist Azamat Usupov points out that, “Not every person is able to admit their addiction publicly.They admit it to a rock instead. The patient has an intimate conversation with a rock.”
And, the clinic must be doing something right. More than 80% of the clinic’s patients remain drug free one year after treatment, which is a great result for heroin users. While addicts say they are skeptical at first, they learned to appreciate this unique approach to treating their addiction.