Sun, 02 Feb 2003

Former addict campaigns against drugs

I Wayan Juniartha, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Demitrius (not his real name) would always be silent every time a conversation touched the sensitive issue of his younger brother, who is HIV-positive. He blames himself for his brother's condition.

"It took me a long time to make peace with myself about it, thanks to the support of my loyal and caring friends. But I have never been able to forgive myself for what happened to Dino," he said.

In the middle of last year, he found out that he was infected with HIV. Two months later, he learned that his brother Dino was also HIV-positive. In addition to HIV, they were both diagnosed with Hepatitis C.

The news about his brother had almost destroyed him. He spent many days feeling sorry for himself, and wondered how soon the cold hand of Death would beckon him and his brother.

"There are only two boys in our family. Our father and mother put all their hopes into us, but with this virus, there is a big possibility that we will only wind up as a heavy burden for them. And this is all my fault," he said.

It all started when he was just ten years old, when he bowed under peer pressure and drank a glass of Arak, a locally made liquor.

Brought up in an Army barracks in Denpasar, Bali, it took him just a few months to switch from drinking alcohol to smoking cheap marijuana.

By his last year in high school, he had already tried almost every kind of substance, including sedatives, sleeping pills, homemade cocktails, and had been with many girls.

When all these things failed to stimulate him and bring him a sense of utter satisfaction, Demitrius finally resorted to the ultimate fix: he tapped his vein and injected the liquid form of "putauw" -- the street name for low-grade heroin.

The instant rush of heroin gave him quite a high, and for years Demitrius's life was a never-ending joyride on a roller coaster of fixes and highs. He tried to quit many times, but the needle always found its way back to his rapidly thinning veins.

Demitrius, a dark and handsome young man with an amazing ability to survive the most terrible street brawls, had always been a role model for Dino; so it was no wonder that Dino faithfully followed his older brother's footsteps and experimented with alcohol, marijuana, girls and finally, heroin.

"Since syringes were expensive and we were afraid that if we carried syringes the police might use it as an evidence to nail us, needle-sharing was common," Demitrius said.

The needle-sharing habit, which initially looked cool and reflected the spirit of camaraderie, was eventually realized to be not only a foolish, but also a dangerous, practice.

"It is a one hundred percent fail-proof way to get infected, if one of your needle-sharing partners is an HIV-positive person. Its effectiveness in transmitting the virus is much, much higher than through unprotected sex," Demitrius said.

About two years ago, after surviving two violent incidents that reminded him how much God loved him, Demitrius finally threw away the syringe and re-embraced Christ. Working with a local non-governmental organization, he fought an uphill battle to stay clean and to help other people quit using drugs.

His charisma, leadership and perseverance won him respect and were essential to the work of the NGO.

"I will not just stand aside waiting for my death. No, my friend, I will fight and it will be a very good fight -- the kind in which you get your nose broken, but you succeed in kicking your enemy out of the room," he grinned, the grin of a fighter.