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Opium Addict Detoxes in ‘Thai Puking Rehab’

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In Opium Fiend: A 21st Century Slave to a 19th Century Addiction, former addict Steven Martin recounts his 20-year addiction to opium and how he recovered from it in what he calls "Thai puking rehab."

The 50-year-old American author first smoked opium in 1992 when he began freelancing as a journalist in Laos, a country in Southeast Asia. At the peak of his addiction, Martin was smoking 30 pipes per day.

In the book, Martin describes the experience that motivated him to seek treatment: In a dark bedroom in Bangkok's Chinatown one Halloween night, a high fever and sharp shivers terrorized Martin while gut-wrenching stomach pains lead to bouts of diarrhea. He pranced around the room in agony with sweat, mucus, vomit, and feces smeared all over his body.

Soon after that night, Martin joined the Tham Krabok Monastery in Thailand, where Buddhist monastic discipline and a vomit-inducing herbal drink cured him of the addiction. Each day for five days, he would position himself over a trough alongside other addicts and drink a "muddy potion" that caused him to vomit "torrents of rust-colored puke."

"A crowd of spectators sang songs to conga-drum rhythms and cavorted about while we gagged and retched," Martin recalls. People who lived near the monastery "used to complain that at night they could hear the addicts’ screams all the way into town."

Although cured of his opium addiction, Martin admits: "When the cravings get particularly keen, I tell myself that when health is lost to disease or old age, I will find a way to once again light the lamp, take up the pipe, and roll myself into sweet oblivion."