Buzzfeed has a three-part documentary series on Netflix titled Follow This. The series highlights current topics that may be obscure compared to mainstream news. Episode 5 of Part 2 in the Follow This series is called “Rehab Tourism” — a topic that I thought was relevant to the Soberocity community and sober/addiction community as a whole. Before we delve into the details of the episode, first we should define “rehab tourism.” Rehab Tourism can be defined as people seeking drug treatment in other countries—in this context, it is U.S. citizens who do not feel the United States provides adequate treatment for drug addicts—specifically Opiates. In the video, Buzzfeed international reporter John Stanton goes to Mexico to research hands on two treatments becoming increasingly popular with United States drug addicts: that of a rehab that used a drug called Ibogaine, and the other being a rehab center that does not permit patients to leave. The most common reason for people to travel to Mexico is because the type of drugs they are looking for, as well as methods of treatment, are less regulated than the United States.
The first treatment described in the video is that of a hallucinogenic drug known as Ibogaine, which was made illegal in the United States in the 1960’s. Ibogaine has grown in popularity for it’s alleged ability to remove all withdrawal symptoms of opiates. Dr. Kenneth Alper of the NYU School of medicine describes Ibogaine as an interesting drug that is said to alleviate symptoms of withdrawal and used to help detoxify opiate users. Due to it being classified as a hallucinogenic and made illegal in the U.S. it is a drug that is difficult to test and experiment. Many doctors are interested in Ibogaine because as Dr. Alper points out “we don’t know how it works.” In a test treatment done in 2016, which followed 30 opiate addicts, Dr.Alpner and his team found that 50% of patients reported to stop using opiates after 30 days. This is compared to conventional treatment (unspecified by the video) which only has a 26% success rate after 30 days. Dr. Alpner says that the “biggest problem” with Ibogaine is that it slows down the heart rate and can cause arrythmias (A condition where the hearts beats at irregular or abnormal rhythms). He mentions 500 fatalities from the drug (but doesn’t explain why, presumably the heart conditions mentioned). Lastly Dr. Alpner says the “magnitude of the [opiate] problem is driving the demand.” Meaning that people are willing to risk their life for treatment, since the current condition without treatment would also likely lead to death.
Thom Leonard is the director of a clinic that uses Ibogaine for treatment in Mexico. He started the clinic because he was disillusioned with drug addiction treatment in the United States. Leonard describes the effects of Ibogaine as “dreamlike…like a lucid dream that lasts for 24 hours.” Once that “dreamlike” state ends for the patient, treatment in the clinic begins. Stanton talks to a patient, Dakota, moments after she wakes up from her first dose of Ibogaine. She describes her experience as “seeing her whole life, past, and dragons, writing on the wall and bees and drums.” In the video, you can tell the patient isn’t fully gripped with reality.
The other treatment described in the video is specifically for men at a place called “Una Nueva Visión.” It is a traditional rehab center with treatment and group therapy with a “different selling point” from clinics in the U.S. —that being that they can hold patients for months on end without allowing them to leave. The only way they would be allowed to leave before the end of treatment would be if a family member approves. About 140-150 people stay at a time and the population is mostly Mexican and U.S. citizens. Guards are on watch 24/7, preventing people from just leaving. One patient in the video came to the clinic from San Diego, CA. The patient’s girlfriend paid the clinic to find her boyfriend. He describes the experience as “if you fight, they fight back.” Meaning that force was used to bring him to the rehab. The patient says he finds it helpful that he is kept there against his will, because he claims he doesn’t know if he would use drugs again or not if he were to leave. Stanton mentions he does not believe it is right for people to be kept against their will, but he reasons that people are so desperate for help they are willing to seek treatments like this.
At the end, Stanton says that “they’re [drug addicts] turning to experimental drugs and jail like rehab centers in Mexico, because nothing in the United States has worked for them so far. I think that’s the biggest problem: we’re not doing enough to give the millions of Americans now addicted to opiates the help that they need.”
Whether or not you agree or disagree with these methods, it is important to know about them and learn. People should not have to resort to extremes in order to get the treatment they so desperately need.