A few nights ago, some acquaintances gathered at Amir Vik-Kiv's apartment in Northeast Washington, where the subject of drug abuse was discussed. They talked about the death of Len Bias from using cocaine. And they talked about Vik-Kiv, for whom arrangements had been made to enter a drug treatment program after First Lady Nancy Reagan read about his problems with cocaine in The Washington Post last Sunday.
As they talked, however, the group gravitated into Vik-Kiv's kitchen. There, Vik-Kiv unloaded a backpack, where he kept a cocaine freebase cooking vial and a glass smoking pipe. Suddenly, talk about drugs stopped. It was now time to do drugs.
Vik-Kiv's story of drug addiction had been featured in the newspaper and he had received an offer for the help he claimed he wanted. Still, the 38-year-old former television cameraman was reluctant to say no to drugs.
The next morning, Vik-Kiv arrived at the Bethesda office of Second Genesis, a respected, $28-a-day Washington area drug rehabilitation center. Donna Alexander, the center's program coordinator, was expecting him.
The day the story had appeared about Vik-Kiv, Dr. Carlton Turner, special assistant to President Reagan for drug abuse policy, received a call from Camp David. Nancy Reagan was on the line.
"Did you see the paper today?" Turner recalled Mrs. Reagan asking him. "Yes, ma'am," Turner replied. "What do you think of the young man?" she asked. "He needs help," Turner said. "Can you arrange it?" she asked.
On the surface, it would seem that sheer interest from the White House would be enough to flatter a person into flushing all drugs down the toilet. Add to that the sudden death of Len Bias after snorting cocaine, and it would seem that anyone who really wanted to stop using drugs would have all the reason he needed.
But with Vik-Kiv, as with thousands of other drug addicts, it was not.
"People ask me, 'How can you still get high?' " Vik-Kiv said yesterday. "It's the duplicity of the cocaine syndrome. Remember the schizophrenic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? My Mr. Hyde is grateful for Nancy Reagan. But Dr. Jekyll does not want to give up cocaine. He is very upset."
As far as the White House is concerned, what Vik-Kiv did by going public with his addiction was to make people aware of the extent of the drug problem and perhaps make people want to do something about it.
"People are now beginning to accept the fact that there is an epidemic," Turner said. "Three years ago, it was hard to get cooperation from those who had the power to do something about the problem. Now sports commissioners, entertainers and the media are getting involved."
As far as Vik-Kiv is concerned, what he did was paint himself into a corner. Going public was his way of acknowledging that he has a problem and that ultimately he was responsible for his own actions.
"My friends said I took a big chance. They said I had really put my media career on the line," Vik-Kiv said. "But that doesn't matter because I know I don't have a media career right now. I have a career with cocaine, and I'm trying to do away with that."
His biggest problem, as always, is controlling his environment. When his friends come by with cocaine, he uses it. If he gets himself together enough to work a part-time job making anything more than $25, he blows it on cocaine.
"One thing that has come out of this is that, when I am sober, I try to reassess who I have chosen for friends, and the quality of my friendships," Vik-Kiv said. "Even when I am high, I can tell that there is less and less satisfaction. I have discovered that the people I hang around are those who steal from me the least."
The program that Vik-Kiv has been accepted into provides rigid, tightly structured 24-hour-a-day treatment. The emphasis is on providing an environment that encourages positive behavioral change. It takes about a year for adults to complete the program, eight months for adolescents.
"An individual's progress is determined by changes in behavior," said Ruth Cavanagh, director of community relations for Second Genesis, which has treatment centers in Upper Marlboro, Rockville, Alexandria and Washington.
"If they don't change, then they will have the learning experiences to help them get in touch with the behavior that is negative and unacceptable."
Vik-Kiv was accepted into the program last week and is scheduled to begin treatment within two weeks.
"To be truthful, I am worried about what I will do the night before I check in," Vik-Kiv said. "But I am fighting as hard as I can. What I want out of it is respect. I want to dry up, get rid of that radical duality in me and deal with life as one person."
"Some people say Second Genesis is tougher than jail because of the pressure to make people change," Cavanagh said. "I would say Amir has a very good chance if he sticks with it.