For nearly 15 years, Thillen Naidoo's life was ruled by crack cocaine. Growing up in Chatsworth, a township on the outskirts of Durban in South Africa, he was surrounded by drugs.
After a troubled childhood and the death of his father, he turned to cocaine.
Though he held down a job as a carpenter and could go for days or even weeks without a hit, his wild drug binges often ended in arguments with his wife Saloshna and sometimes even physical abuse.
By the time he met Dr Anwar Jeewa at the Minds Alive Rehab Centre in Chatsworth, Naidoo had tried to quit several times and failed. "Those were dark, dark days," he says.
Thillen Naidoo and his wife were desperate and willing to try anything to ease his addiction Jeewa offered a radical solution, a hallucinogenic drug used in tribal ceremonies in central Africa that would obliterate his cravings. But Naidoo was anxious. "I didn't know what this ibogaine thing was," he says. "I never expected it to work."
After several medical tests he was given the pill. A few hours later he lay in bed, watching flying fish swarm above his head. He felt the room move around him and a constant buzz rang in his ears. Scenes from his childhood flashed up briefly before his eyes and each time someone approached to check he was OK he felt a rush of fear.When the drug wore off, he was free of his addiction to cocaine. Six months later, he is still clean. Sixteen years later, the original patients who took the drug are still clean. Thousands have been spared the scourge of addiction after a single dose of this hallucinogen. It seems to affect people in two ways, fixing the receptors in the brain that are responsible for feeling the craving, and during the time of hallucinogenic experience patients confront the memories or feelings that trigger the need for the drug in the first place. In other words, you don't feel pain or withdrawal at all, and you come out of it with less emotional and mental baggage. Win-win-win-win-win.
It works. It really really works, and when it does work it seems to have permanent effects from a single dose. So why aren't drug companies all over this? There's no money in it. There is no repeat business, so there is no profit. There is no incentive to develop a medicine that, while beneficial for hundreds of millions of addicts, because they won't be able to crank out a monthly refill.
I understand the needs of business to turn a profit and grow. But we are talking about a cure for heroin and cocaine addiction with an unbelievable long-term success rate. This is something that has torn apart countless families, ruined millions of lives over the years, and costs government billions in rehab and law enforcement. If they find the cure for cancer, would it only be useful if it turned a profit? Before reading this, I would have had faith that on a global level we were better than that. Now I'm not so sure.
I started smoking when I was thirteen, because I was stupid, as most teenagers are. I wanted to quit, I was terrified of cancer and emphysema, but I couldn't do it. I tried several times, it was brutally painful, so much so that my nonsmoking husband would buy me a pack because he couldn't stand to see me suffer the withdrawals. I had a chance in the early days of Wellbutrin to participate in a reduced rate program. I jumped on board, and when I quit I was totally freaked out by the fact that it was painless. I have never smoked since, and am healthier than I've been since junior high school. I can't imagine addiction to coke or heroin, something that can reduce relatively normal people to mere monsters chasing a fix. But I know what it's like to be be trapped, scared, and unable to stop. This won't cure every single person, and not everyone wants to be cured of addiction. But for those who do, they'll have a fighting chance. There is finally hope for those trapped in the hell that only an addict knows, of wanting desperately to quit but stuck in a trying-and-failing cycle that never ends.
You know when people try to be all smarmy and suggest that there are better things to spend government money on? Well, this is one of them. This is important enough to demand our funding and our respect. It can spare families so much suffering! It can be given to repeat offenders as a choice, a therapy at rehab centers that can spend more energy teaching people how to live drug free because there is no need to battle withdrawal symptoms. For those it saves, they only have to want to quit long enough to take it once. After that, they don't crave the drug and in some cases are forever unable to feel the normal experience of users. There's no reward in it for them, and they feel no physical need to have it. That is a cure, folks. I can only hope that research backs up the findings and gives us a way to help people around the world. I'm totally flummoxed that it comes down to funding, a crude and avoidable obstacle. If it worked but caused your skin to turn purple, or the recipients went blind, that's an obstacle that might kill the victory in the war on heroin. But cost of research to back very promising results? Holy shit, where's the telethon for that? The worst criticism I heard was "it didn't work for me" but even modest research should be able to improve results on increasing the number of people it reaches and fighting any side effects.
Does government really want to win the war on drugs? You can't win from the supply end of things. As you kill the supply, you increase the demand to a point that it becomes unbeatable. This is a chance to kill it from the demand end of things, a permanent and real solution. Without demand, the rug is yanked out from under drug cartels, and the competition for what little remaining business there is would put all but the top out of business. Drug lords would do law enforcement's job, taking out their own kind and reversing the numbers so that cops can hold their own. Education, availability and the desire to quit would be able to make a difference, as people learn that they can quit, win forever, and it won't even hurt. Can it really be that money is the only thing in the way of putting this to use? One way or another, I gotta call BS. Either they are misrepresenting the findings or governments can't see a good opportunity staring them straight in the face.