Addicts are given ten syringes a day by the Caracuda drug center
According to the Romanian National Anti-Drug Agency (ANA), there are 10,000 intravenous drug users in Bucharest. In theory, the state is supposed to supply users with clean needles and help addicts get on methadone treatment programs. But considering the allegations of police persecution—and the 25 percent rise in HIV rates during 2012, suggesting users weren’t getting the clean needles they were promised—it would seem the authorities’ attitudes haven’t changed a lot since the days of dictatorial communist rule.
To get a better understanding of the situation, I visited the Caracuda Center in the city’s Ferentari neighborhood, which is considered to be the hub of heroin use in Bucharest. Here, an NGO called Carusel offers syringes and medical aid to addicts three times a week. On arriving, I heard the first example of the government’s absurd approach to heroin users: The only way a homeless addict can get the ID card that allows him to get medical attention is if a cop fines him for sleeping on public property and gives him temporary papers so he can issue the penalty.
The Caracuda center is named after Romania's first methadone patient. On the left is Costin Militaru.
Costin Militaru, a medic at the center who treats users' injection wounds, told me: “Addicts are treated OK in the centers, and they can get on the methadone treatment if they really want to. But it’s hard for them because they have to get IDs and many of these treatments aren't free.”
As for the local authorities, Costin claims they confiscate the state-issued syringes he hands out to addicts. “Sometimes they take them to the precinct and watch them go into withdrawal for fun," he told me. "I've heard of situations where they were taken into the middle of a field and left there. They apparently say stuff like, 'If you don't beat each other up, we'll do it for you, so it's better for you if you do it yourself.' But these are all stories from the addicts. I don't know what's true and what's a result of their own paranoia. We had this one guy in with a fractured arm who said he was beaten up by the police and lost all his syringes.”
I wanted to find out firsthand what the addicts think of the authorities, so I spoke to a few who dropped in at the center.
Bogdan Suciu (left) is a social worker at Caracuda who managed to get off heroin after six years of addiction.
VICE: How did you get over your addiction?
Bogdan Suciu: With methadone. I took the treatment on the street after they'd kicked me out of the government's treatment center because I missed two appointments—but that was because I was working. The centers can only handle treatment for 1,000 patients, but there are 18,000 people who need the help in Romania. It's hard to stay on the treatment, as it sometimes costs money, which most of them can't afford. Many take the methadone pills orally, with the wrong doses. Then they think that the treatment doesn't work, so they refuse to try it a second time. I've had two relapses. Each time it took me about a year to get over them.
How did the authorities treat you?
They terrorized me. As soon as they found me on the street, they'd take me to the precinct to try and make me rat out other addicts. I told them to leave me alone because I was undergoing treatment, but they just said, “What treatment, you bloody addict? Your kind never quits.” I was lucky that my dad argued with them for me. Then the people from ANA told them that I was having treatment and should be left alone.
What about the ones who aren't so lucky?
A friend got held up for a week at the precinct. They made him clean everything, even the curtains and the windows. Also, my best friend was so terrorized by them that he fled Bucharest for over a year. They were harassing him to try and get some dirt on me.
Why? Do they have an arrest quota they have to hit, or something?
Even if they did have one, what's the point in harassing the same ten addicts? Go catch the big fish—the guys selling the drugs. They’ll often force you to ask a friend of yours to buy some for you so they can arrest him for trafficking.
Maria has been addicted to heroin for more than four years. She has two kids in an orphanage, but she visits them occasionally.
VICE: When was your first time taking heroin?
Maria: I lived with this boy who was doing synthetic drugs. I saw that he felt nice when he took them, so I asked him to make two lines for me so I could see how it felt myself. That's how I ended up doing heroin.
How do doctors and cops treat you?
Badly, especially since they found out I have HIV and work as a prostitute. But the doctors did give me the treatment I need, even though the police fined me for prostitution.
They never arrested you for doing hard drugs?
No, because I'd always admit that I had balls of heroin on me. They saw that I was sincere and left me alone. They didn't even confiscate my drugs. Others argue with them, so that's why the cops take all their stuff, including the syringes.
Have you ever quit?
Yeah, I was clean for six months while I was in a treatment center where I wasn't even allowed to go out for a smoke. But as soon as I got out, I met up with my friends, who said, “Let's go trip balls.” It all went to shit again after that.
Rosanna has been addicted to heroin for 16 years.
VICE: Have you ever tried to quit?
Rosanna: Yeah, but I couldn't do it. I know it's bad for me, but I've grown up with drugs—I don't know how to quit. I'd try the treatment, but my ID has expired. I tried it once, but stupidly I stopped doing it because the center was too far from here.
Does your family understand your predicament?
It's one thing to be understanding. It's another to feel this yourself. They tell you all it takes is will and ambition, but they don't know it's a struggle, that you go through terrible pains. Eventually they got disgusted that I kept doing it. I would be, too, if I were in their place.
How do the doctors act around you?
I had an operation a while ago because I had problems with my gut and the doctor told me I had two hours to live. They all said, “Oh my God, you're in such bad shape—how did you get like this?” I was so swollen, you would have thought I was pregnant, but they still refused to hospitalize me.
What about the cops?
It depends on the shift. There are some who will be abusive—who will swear at you, call you “a fucking cunt,” yell about “your momma's vagina,” and beat you. After that, they ask you details about what you do, when you whore yourself, how big the cocks are that you ride. It's not normal.
Adi has been an addict for ten years.
VICE: What's the worst thing that's happened to you since you started doing drugs?
Adi: I have HIV and hepatitis. People treat us like mangy dogs. I was also cut with a knife recently. They stuck it my leg and my shoulder, just to steal my syringes.
How do people on the street react to you?
If I ask them for a piece of bread, they refuse. I don't steal. I just beg.
How do the cops treat you?
One time they beat me up, took my syringes and took me to the precinct. When we got there they swore at me and hit me with a metal table leg and their plastic batons. They arrested me for drug consumption, then they pinned some unsolved thefts on me. They said, “Hey, you're the one who stole a ladder a few days ago.” I told them to find some witnesses to confirm it, but they kept going, “No need, we know you took it.” They saw that I was so poor that it wouldn't actually hurt to send me to prison.
Dracul has been addicted to heroin for 12 years.
VICE: What are your biggest needs?
Dracul: Money, which you need for drugs. I work on a construction site, so I do OK, but others have physical problems and they can't do it.
Do you ever feel persecuted?
Nobody knows I do drugs at work, but it wouldn't be an issue because I'm employed without paperwork anyway. I don't even have an ID. But everyone outside of work stares at me. I can't talk to my friends or my wife any more, and her mother looks at me like I'm scum of the earth.
My mom tries to. It's hard for a mother to be cold when she sees her child is ill. She gives me money and says, “Go on, son,” because she can't stand to see me shiver from withdrawal.
Do the police do anything to you?
They keep beating me and asking me why I'm getting high. They take me to the precinct, where they make me wash the desks of the beat cops. They spit on us, swear at us, call us bums. They confiscate my money because I can't prove where I got it from. My ID expired, and I can't get a new one because I don't have a house. I'm a homeless person, so apparently I don't deserve an ID—I'm not worthy of an ambulance coming to pick me up if I get sick.
Some names have been changed to protect the identity of interviewees.
More articles about heroin addiction: