A staff member at a Kachin drug rehabilitation center coaxes a newcomer for information about his drug stash. He was collected from his village in the middle of the night. (Pailin Wedel)

After four days in rehab camp, this man returned to his village and immediately found black opium to inject and smoke. (Pailin Wedel)

In the mountains between China and Burma, the Kachin, an ethnic group, are drowning in one of the world’s worst heroin crises. Since the country’s opening up to the world two years ago, Christian groups in Kachin state have been able to organize more freely and have taken the drug war into their own hands.

Addiction has broken up Kachin families, weakened their anti-government resistance forces and left a hole in their economy. Patrol groups identify and collect addicts using informants and persuade village leaders and parents to hand them over by promising to get their loved ones clean. But with little funds to spend, all they have is cold water, massage and prayer to help them. Several makeshift church rehab centers are shackling or locking addicts up until the worst is over. Village elders contend that a staggering 80 percent of Kachin youths are hooked on the drug – a fallout from living among poppy fields controlled by militias that feed Asia’s appetite for heroin.

The Kachin have a name for their addicts: “The Lost Generation.”


A man who is suffering through withdrawal pains gets massages from rehab staff members. He has been an addict for 16 years, and this was his third day in rehab. (Pailin Wedel)

A man who had used heroin for seven years plays the guitar while singing with friends at the rehab camp. He died of unknown causes months after this photo was taken. (Pailin Wedel)

Newcomers in rehab are confined in what the center calls the “prayer room,” where they remain until the worst is over. (Pailin Wedel)

“The prayer room” at one rehab facility, where recovering addicts spend their first week locked in confinement to prevent them from hurting themselves or others while suffering withdrawal. (Pailin Wedel)

Addicts shoot up in an alley in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state. They say they have to shoot up five to six times a day to feel normal. It costs between $5 and $10 per hit. (Pailin Wedel)

A recovering addict is shackled during a period of confinement to help in the recovery process. After rehab, he became a boat driver on the Irrawaddy River and says he has stayed clean. (Pailin Wedel)

Minutes after shooting up, a man says he finally feels high — and normal. (Pailin Wedel)

A man prepares needles to inject black opium hours after he left a rehab center. (Pailin Wedel)

With few resources, one of the only ways to ease recovering addicts’ withdrawal pains is cold water. Many of them douse themselves with water several times a day. (Pailin Wedel)

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