EXCLUSIVE: The city where kids as young a nine are crystal meth addicts
Children as young as nine in the Mexican city of Durango have laid bare the details of their crystal methamphetamine addictions and how they formed their habits watching their drug-addled parents or being supplied at school.
Marco Leyva, 11, became addicted to crystal meth at just seven. The son of a meth cook who helplessly watched his mother die from an overdose two years ago, he’s now in rehab for the third time.
One of over 400 minors aged eight to 15 undergo rehabilitation for addiction to crystal meth at the Analco Youth Rehab Centre in Durango, northern Mexico, Marco’s case is nothing out of the ordinary in his hometown.
‘Everyone I know smokes crystal meth’, he told MailOnline, his scarred hands shaking from withdrawal symptoms. ‘I smoked it to be normal, to be able to relate to my family and friends’.
A city brought to its knees by crystal methamphetamine, 35 percent of Durango’s 500,000 residents admit to consuming the narcotic, which is inexpensive, highly addictive and ‘available on every corner’.
‘I blame myself for my son’s drug habit’, says Miguel Leyva, 49, who gave up producing crystal meth in the apartment he shared with his six children when he found eight-year-old Marco consuming a freshly produced batch. ‘His mother and I smoked to excess and it cost us her life. Now I see the same happening to my own children.’
The aggressive narcotic has become so widespread in the city that it is commonly sold in primary schools, where hooked students are encouraged by drug dealers to sell to their classmates so as not to have to pay for their own doses.
‘I first bought crystal meth during my lunch break, and after smoking it was the only thing I was interested in’, said 14-year-old Angel Alberto, who has struggled to gain mass since arriving at the youth rehabilitation centre two months ago weighing just 34kg.
‘Eventually I ended up selling it to my friends’, he told MailOnline, ‘a single dose costs just 50 pesos (£2), so everyone could afford it’.
Another patient at the centre, nine-year-old Javier Ayud has struggled with abuse of substances including alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, solvents and crystal meth.
‘They’re all very easy to get’, he says. ‘The guys who sell drugs on the street don’t care that I’m a kid, they only care about making money’.
Durango’s local government refused to comment when approached by MailOnline.
One of over 100 rehab clinics in Durango, the Analco Youth Rehab Centre runs a three-month program, with capacity for 18 patients at a time.
While 407 boys aged have passed through its doors, the government-run clinic has 94 further boys on its waiting list.
The clinic’s director Martina Sosa says that 65 percent of their patients have managed to continue their abstinence since discharge, but that for the rest a return to old ways is a sad inevitability.
‘The vast majority of our patients have parents who are also addicts’, she told MailOnline. ‘We do our best to treat them while they are with us, but when they return to family lives where consumption of crystal meth is a daily fact of life, it can be almost impossible to keep from relapsing.’
Marco Leyva’s father Miguel still consumes crystal meth on a daily basis, while his elder brother now works as a drug dealer for the Sinaloa Cartel, the dominant organised crime organisation in Durango.
Miguel Leyva says that getting clean on the tough streets of Durango is almost impossible.
‘The Ice (a slang name for crystal methamphetamine) is extremely addictive’, he told MailOnline during his weekly visit at his son’s rehab centre. ‘It’s cheap, it’s available everywhere and it makes you forget about all your problems, which is very attractive to people like me who live in abject poverty’.
Once a prosperous mining hub of the colonial era, the six short years between the collapse of local industry and the expansion of the Sinaloa cartel’s local narcotics production have seen state capital Durango torn apart by crystal methamphetamine.
Drug dealers are visible on every corner of the city’s peripheral slums, taxi drivers offer to sell directly to clients and in the notorious Villas del Guardiana district, the police themselves take charge of dealing drugs to local residents.
‘I always had to buy crystal meth from the police, who sell it out of their patrol cars’, says 15-year-old Manuel Enrique, who grew up in Villas. ‘They don’t allow anyone else to sell drugs in my neighbourhood’.
The chief medical officer at Mision Korian, a luxury government-run centre on the outskirts of the city that charges £2,000 for a five-week rehabilitation program, Dr Julio Cesar Ramirez says crystal meth has taken hold in Durango like no other substance.
‘Amphetamines stimulate pleasure centres in the brain, releasing dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline and other stimuli which manifest feelings of euphoria and pleasure in the user’, he said.
‘When you consider that the substance is readily available, affordable, extremely pleasurable and highly addictive, and add the factors of unemployment and poverty with which many Durango residents live, it’s clear why crystal meth has stuck like no other in this town’.
Whilst 35 percent of underage patients return to using crystal meth in Durango, the relapse rate amongst post-rehab adults is a massive 98 percent.
Out of over 3,000 addicts to undergo treatment at the city’s Fundacion Durango clinic, only around 200 remain clean today. Cuauhtémoc Avellano, 56, now the resident day manager, is one of them.
‘Crystal meth is the devil’, he told MailOnline. ‘It made me do unimaginable things’.
A once-successful businessman who lost everything due to his methamphetamine addiction, Cuauhtémoc was forcibly admitted to the non-government centre in 2007 after his wife called for help.
Even after eight years of abstinence, today he does not feel ready to face the outside world, where crystal meth is available everywhere in his city.
‘I see my family every other Sunday for an hour or two’, he told MailOnline. ‘There are things that can be forgiven, but not forgotten’.
By 40 years old, Cuauhtémoc owned two seafood restaurants, a tortilla shop, a car wash, a flour distribution company, an apartment, two houses and four cars. By 44, he had lost everything.
‘I smoked the lot away’, he told MailOnline with a grim smile, displaying his ‘meth mouth’ teeth, a gruesome reminder of his past. ‘I would need to smoke a cocktail of marijuana, cocaine and meth every morning just to get my day started. But eventually I dropped everything for the crystal; meth is a very jealous drug’.
‘At my lowest point I was smoking four grams of Ice a day (one tenth of a gram is considered a large dosage), I went weeks without eating or sleeping, I missed every significant event in my children’s upbringing’.
The Fundacion Durango, a non-government rehab centre run by former addicts, espouses the tough love detoxication policy, claiming the government centres care little about resolving the root problems of addiction.
‘My patients all display a huge amount of guilt and self-loathing’, says the clinic’s resident psychologist Adriana Garrola. ‘Unfortunately these feelings result in a vicious circle, since it’s possible for a patient to mute them temporarily with the use of methamphetamine’.
‘We mix professional help with the empathy of those who have shared a patient’s pain’, said the centre’s director Mariano Sanchez, who first recognised the growing problem of addiction amongst minors in Durango. ‘We are realistic about our goals and depend on the support of a patients family and friends’.
‘An addict infects everyone around him’, he told MailOnline. ‘Be it introducing the substance to other members of his social circle, prostituting his wife and daughters, or turning to robbery and kidnap in order to pay for his next dose, it’s a problem that needs to be dealt with at its source’.
Despite his work with addicts to fight the scourge of methamphetamine, Mariano sees no end to Durango’s addiction to the aggressive narcotic, which he believes to be worse than cocaine and heroin combined.
‘As long as there is poverty, corruption and misery in this city, crystal meth will continue to infect generation after generation’, he told MailOnline. ‘If every person a child knows smokes Ice, then how can life without methamphetamine be normal?’