Jenishbek Nazaraliev has tried heroin in Kyrgyzstan and cocaine in Colombia, and visited over 40 countries where you can easily get a cheap fix.
All in the name of research.
"You may trust me, I know how to treat addicts," says the 42-year-old doctor at his drug clinic in the Kyrgyz capital, where a fix of heroin or opium costs no more than a cheap bottle of local vodka.
His personal experience is not out of place in Kyrgyzstan, a poor mountainous country which has turned into a transit route for cheap Afghan drugs flowing into Russia and further into Europe via sparsely populated Central Asia.
"I myself am clean now and it's been three years since I last tried drugs or drank, or smoked," he said.
The doctor, whose clinic became the first Soviet private hospital in 1991, may not be alone in mixing 100-odd various medicines into what he calls magic cocktails to help patients overcome the initial cold turkey period of abstinence.
But patients from Russia, Kazakhstan, Georgia and ex-Soviet diaspora from as far as the United States, Germany, Israel and Cyprus queue up for treatment at the tiny clinic which accommodates just 35 patients.
"What makes us different?" Nazaraliev said. "We try to reintegrate a person into social life, to whip up his ambition and self-respect. A new person is born through this catharsis."
Nazaraliev says he has so far cured more than 15,000 addicts and he claims that 80 percent of his patients do not return to drugs in the three years after treatment. If true, this is a startling success rate, given that most drug therapies consider a rate of one in five cures as a success.
He says the U.S. government offered him a $1 million grant in 1995 to study his methods.
In a dim room at the clinic, a creepy and eerie scene shocks the visitor.
Two yelping men dressed in white, their bodies curved back and tense, with trembling arms outstretched, stand under brightly lit lamps, gripped in a paroxysm of stress and pain.
"You are human beings. Be proud of that. There is no longer such force on earth that could make you turn to taking this filth again," said Nazaraliev, swirling in his black tunic around the patients in trance.
"You are strong and mighty people. We shall now replace your drug-ridden past with a new life," he goes on with his mantra, clapping hands and knocking shoes against the floor, as if trying to instill his incantations yet deeper into their brains.
Minutes later, "stress-energy therapy" -- the last stage in weeks of treatment -- is over, and the exhausted patients collapse on soft mats. Yesterday's drug addicts now relax and will soon go home, hoping that drugs are just a past nightmare.
Vladimir, a 37-year-old father of three from Russia's Buddhist region of Kalmykia, chose what is called a "pilgrimage" to end his eight-year nightmare of taking opium and synthetic drugs.
It took him an arduous 5-1/2 hours to finish the 38-km (24 miles) road to the sacred Tashtar Ata mountain outside Bishkek, carrying a large stone in his rucksack.
Amid the serenity of the surrounding landscape of stunning mountains, Vladimir kissed the stone and added it to a symbolic cairn laid by those already cured by Nazaraliev.
"I feel relieved. It's as if a stone fell off my heart. I had a course of treatment in Moscow, but this one in Kyrgyzstan is infinitely better," Vladimir said, reclining on pillows and enjoying strong tea in a traditional Kyrgyz "yurt" or felt tent.
WALL OF SILENCE
In 2001 Nazaraliev set up an anti-drug movement called Mind out of Drug to encourage healthy living, and Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev eagerly became its honorary chairman. In 2002, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan became the first honorary member.
But the Kyrgyz reality is harsh. "Nobody openly criticizes me, but my name, my clinic are taboo here," Nazaraliev said.
"Why does Nazaraliev cure for money? Why does he prefer rich foreigners to the poor Kyrgyz?" asked a police officer, pointing to the average cost of treatment of around $4,500.
Wages seldom reach $50 a month in the nation of five million. A dose of Afghan heroin smuggled across the rugged mountain passes of next-door Tajikistan costs just $2 or less.
There are an estimated 80,000 drug addicts in Kyrgyzstan -- some 70 percent of them on heroin -- and the number is rising.
It appears, envy is Nazaraliev's main opponent in his native land. Few can stand the sight of a smart doctor driving a huge car along Bishkek's pot-holed roads.
By Dmitry Solovyov,
Reuters, May 16, 2004