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To Stay Alive and Help People

opiate poppyTo stay alive and to help people with similar problems – this is how a drug addict from Ukraine sees the purpose of his life.

Pavel Kutsev, the leader of Ukrainian non-profit Drop-in Center, shared his life story recently on his blog. He describes what he and his wife had to go through trying to stop drug consumption and how they later started the non-profit organization which serves the needs of Kiev's injection drug user and HIV positive communities, and promotes substitution therapy programs in Ukraine.

The narration starts from a moment when, after years as injection drug users, Pavel and his wife realized that they urgently needed medical assistance.

Our attempts to get medical assistance from government hospitals were useless. Surgical departments at state hospitals turned us down. They wanted us to get rid of the drug addictions first. Narcology clinics also refused to hospitalize us when they saw our sores and learned the length of our addiction…

Any kind of immunity treatment was possible only after our body gets some opium.

“Do everything but inject”, doctors told us. In fact there was no place on our bodies where we could inject. Totally broken veins were everywhere: groin, neck, arms, legs … Intramuscular injections were the only option. But those who know what intramuscular injections mean will understand … chronic abscesses, sepsis …

We were desperate … Then we got an opportunity to stay in a private hospital, to cure our sores, get medical tests and actually to find out how much time we still have. We would not have been accepted to any government hospital without HIV, TB, syphilis tests, but there in the private hospital it was just pay and stay …

So, on a nice sunny day … having paid an unbelievable amount of 2000 Ukrainain Hrivnas [approximately $ 400], which we earned by selling a batch of “shirka” (domestically produced opiate drug similar to heroin) we got two 15-day-long detoxification courses in City Neurology Dispensary #3. They have already known us there and did not hide their surprise to see us still alive …

In the room beside us there were about twenty other 18-25-year-old girls and boys. They were forcibly put into the hospital by their rich parents who had desperately believed that their kids would be saved from an inevitable death. Everybody had slept during the day time. At night the neighboring area of the hospital was full of dealers offering drugs and alcohol. Late at night, when the iron door of the hospital was closed and all medical personal went asleep, our room – which consisted of 95% sexually active HIV positive people, who stayed there not because they wanted to – started making love. As a group. We have been shocked, but we were not involved in this orgy. We realized that staying in this crazy place, having paid that much, we should just cure our bodies …

In a few days we were released from the hospital. What had we achieved? Reduced our dosage. Reduced it so much that we could live without INJECTIONS, but still had to eat ingest straws …

It took us a month to switch to buprenorphine. But it helped us to return to the world. Detoxification was paid for by Kiev City Heath Center as a reward for our activity while we were in the hospital – producing articles and taking interviews. In a month our sores healed and we started to go out more often. We started to produce and sell much less “shyrka”– only when we needed some cash for cigarettes, food and … for a future organization.

We started to think about it more and more as we realized that nobody but us needs our problems. Problems of people who appeared to be in a situation like ours, when you do not have any more illusions about recovering … When you are fifty, with almost thirty years on drugs, the only thing you want is to die with dignity… This is possible only if you have a life-long treatment with methadone. That means that we need to be active, to promote substitution therapy programs so that normal people would understand that drug addicts are also people, but very thick people, who need not a drug but a TREATMENT from the drug; treatment which gives you the possibility to live a normal life…

Our life became quiet. We started to read, to write and sleep (oh my god, I started to sleep at night). It seemed that all my illnesses disappeared … We started to eat more and to gain weight … We have not completely stopped using drugs but we started to consume them much less …

There was a moment when we stated actively looking for likeminded people. We realized that we need to feel the emptiness of our lives with something useful …

To start a business? Ha-ha-ha … We have hardly had enough money even on food…

We decided to establish a non-profit organization and this had become our idée fixe. We had a feeling that this f^%$^% world is waiting for us, us – so active and full of desire to save this world and people like us…

To accelerate the registration process we had to “make presents” to bureaucrats like candies, expensive brandy, chocolate. In Ukraine it is totally impossible for drug users to earn money legally – we did not have any other choice but to continue our criminal business of selling drugs. We spent this money on gifts. For example to pay a 17 hrivnas fee ($3) I had to sell my evening dose of pills.

We named our non-governmental organization Drop-in Center. The founders of this organization were a medical doctor and us, her three patients … The philosophy was very simple: 95% of drug users never think about their life and never give up the habit until they would really want to change their lives … Drug addicts are very lonely people. We decided to help these people by sharing the information and our personal experience. What to do with all this afterwards would be their personal choice.

We are a neighborhood organization with 12 members. Our office is in a basement and nobody wants to be our neighbor…

Sometimes we get a question “If you really had gone through what you are talking about in such horrible system, then how it happened that you are still alive?” Sorry, guys, it’s just how it happened. It might be because of the strong resistance of our organisms or maybe it is something else. Or somebody.

1 comment

  • […] Pavel is currently one of the activists in a harm reduction program in the Ukraine, and was a drug user for about 30 years. He is a co-founder and leader of the Ukrainian foundation for injection drug users called Drop-In Center. […]

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