Burma is the second largest opium producer in the world, accounting for 10 percent of global opium production.
Although there is little available data, residents and aid workers claim there’s been an increase in the number of young people addicted to drugs.
The most popular drug now is known as “formula” – a cocktail of cough medicine and opium that is taken as a drink.
Methamphetamine and straight heroine are also common.
23-year-old Sang Naw injects heroin into his veins twice a day.
He started using heroin after he failed his high school exams 6 years ago.
“Some of my friends were using it so I wanted to have a try. The first time, my friend gave me too much and it nearly killed me. Froth started coming from my mouth.”
Sang Naw sometimes works in the logging industry with his relatives. When he’s not working, he injects heroin with friends.
“My mother sent me to Yangon to quit. I was there for two or three months and I was clean.”
But he says once he came back to Kachin state, he started using it again.
“If I go to the rehabilitation center, I can quit for a month or two. But when I’m back, I see my friends... and I start using again. It’s so easy to buy here.”
Brang Nu is a pastor from the Baptist Church in a village near the Myitsone Dam Project in Kachin state. The China-backed project was stopped two years ago by the President following a public outcry.
“After the project started, many gold-panners came to this area,” he recalls.
“That’s when the drug business started. We’d never heard of this drug before. It was just beer. Now everyone, young and old, is using drugs.”
There are no official figures on how many drug addicts there are in the country. But social workers say the numbers are increasing.
And with the recent democratic reforms, Burma is under pressure to tackle its drug problem.
The government has created an anti-drug campaign song to broadcast nationwide.
The lyrics warn that “Drugs are like fire, they will destroy your life.”
The campaign’s album is on sale to the public... in an effort to stop people from using drugs.
U Kyaw Min founded the Voluntary Social Workers’ Association that tries to help drug addicts quit. He lost his younger brother to an overdose.
“I couldn’t help a member of my family who was addicted to drugs and died. I don’t want this to happen to other people.”
But he says it’s difficult to break the cycle.
“Even after years in a rehabilitation camp, where we give them vocational training, when they go back into society they start using drugs again. We have to understand that they are patients that need help for a very long time.”
He says the best thing to do is to try and stop people from starting.
“Prevention is better than cure. We raise awareness in communities, and schools. We know our work is small but this small thing can have a big impact on the future.”
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