Stepping into the endless abyss

December 5, 2011

By Jason Lee

According to official reports, there will be 780,000 HIV-positive people in China by the end of 2011. As drug injection is one of the main causes of AIDS infections, the Chinese government has to face the situation and come up with appropriate solutions to help those estimated 1.8 million drug users in China.

Yunnan, a province located in southwest China at the border of the Golden Triangle, is a hot zone for AIDS infections. It took great effort to apply to the Yunnan province judicial and public security offices to receive permission allowing me to photograph a compulsory drug rehabilitation center and a drug addicts recovery community in provincial capital Kunming.

Most people think that drug addicts are a group of people who are full of lies. This shows how drugs can change a person’s humanity. I have heard so many painful stories from drug addicts. What we need urgently is a good solution to help them get back to normal lives. Because of China’s large population, I believe it is the government’s duty to help. After I finished transmitting my pictures from Yunnan, a picture editor commented “They seem to be pretty good over there.” I replied, “Yes, and I think if ever my friend becomes addicted to drugs, I will personally suggest that he goes there.”

However, even if a drug addict is sent to a prison-like compulsory drug rehabilitation center for, let’s say, about two years before they go back to the society, it is still highly likely that they will take drugs again. A police officer told me that the retake rate is nearly 86%.

Later, I went to a community built for drug addicts to live and work. Some of the residents have decided to spend their whole lives there because they retake drugs several times outside the community. A resident ballet dancer told me that she started taking drugs at the age of 18 and was not aware of the harm they could do. She gave up her rights as a mother as she was not sure whether she could resist drugs in the future. She didn’t want her child to be burdened with her tainted history. “I don’t want to bring about troubles to society. Heroin is not the only drug. There are more and more new drugs which should be revealed by reporters like you and let the young people be aware of them. We shall protect them from stepping into the endless abyss,” she said.

Although the drug addicts had rather good working and living conditions in the community, my heart still felt very heavy. We know AIDS is difficult to cure, but it is far more difficult to cure the ruined humanity one could suffer after taking drugs. What the drug addicts need is not only our compassion, but also effective solutions and hope. As a photojournalist, I feel great obligations on my shoulders to provide our help as much as possible.

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