Conservationists in China are celebrating the newly found sobriety of four Asian Elephants rescued from the dangerous Triad drug gang after successfully treating them using the well-known opiate addiction medication Methadone.
They had been seized by police on different occasions over the past nine years and brought to Wild Elephant Valley, a protected area in China's southwestern Yunnan Province and home to 250 other wild elephants. Not long after their arrival, the Elephants became uncontrollable, displaying aggression and restlessness. Given the animals origins with the regions drug gangs, staff at the reserve decided to run drug tests on the obviously distressed animals. The results gave some insight as to what was behind the animals’ behavior.
These particular elephants had heroin in their system.
Hold up. How exactly did these Elephants end up getting their trunks on heroin laced bananas in the first place?
The regions drug gangs use these mammoth creatures as powerful aids in heroin smuggling operations between the China and Myanmar border. In order to make the animals easier to train and obey orders, gangs resort to feeding them heroin laced bananas. The innocent Elephants quickly become addicted to the drug infused bananas, allowing the gang members to maintain control over by either supplying or withholding the animals’ next fix.
How much Methadone does it take to properly treat and wean an Elephant off heroin-laced bananas?
According Chen Jiming, who has worked with the Elephants at the Wild Elephant Valley in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture and the Asian Elephant breeding center in China's southwest province of Yunnan, their appetite for opiates far exceeds that of humans.
"The elephants need at least five times more than a human being would need at the start and then we slowly reduced that until they no longer needed it. But it is every bit as hard for the elephants to go through the cold turkey regime as it is for humans," Jiming said.
The process of weaning an elephant off heroin-laced bananas using the drug Methadone is extremely similar to the process of weaning a person. Just like people, the animals had their Methadone dosage slowly reduced or tapered down slowly over time. In the case of the Elephants, the taper process was done over the course of a year until it was reduced to zero and the animals were declared clean.
Even though this incident was the reserves first experience with opiate addicted elephants, their decision to use the lifesaving drug known as Methadone has yielded some incredibly positive results.
"It has been a long battle but we can safely say that they are now reintegrated into elephant society and in some cases even have families of their own,” Jiming said.
The elephants are now free of heroin and are living a new sober lifestyle at the Wild Valley Elephant Reserve.
K. Lanktree is a NewsOK contributor, Freelance Writer, Former IV Drug User, Methadone Patient and Harm Reduction Advocate. For more information, check out her blog.
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