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Social worker tries to earn their trust

AFTER walking up a twisting stairwell, Zhang Yanjun entered a small room in a shabby residential complex in downtown Luwan District.

It's not her home, but the family there treats the 25-year-old social worker as an old friend.

Zhang has helped the 38-year-old hostess, a former heroin addict, rehabilitate her life and restore relations with her mother. On this day, Zhang brought school supplies for her son, an elementary school student.

"Every time I am questioned by friends about whether it's possible to successfully help a drug abuser, I use this woman as an example," Zhang said.

A graduate of Shanghai Normal University in 2006 with a major in social work, Zhang is one of 50 social workers at Shanghai Ziqiang Social Service, a non-governmental organization specializing in helping drug addicts.

Zhang says it is not easy for her to win the trust of drug addicts released from mandatory drug rehabilitation centers.

"I was often considered an ignorant little girl, especially by middle-aged men who think they've been through a lot in life," said Zhang.

Also, some drug addicts are wary of her, fearing she's the same as a police officer.

"We avoid visiting them with police officers as much as possible. They feel we're exposing them if they hear police sirens wailing near their apartment," she said.

An important part of Zhang's job is to accompany them to urine tests. An addict is considered clean if they pass a urine test every two months for three straight years.

Rehabilitating drug addicts is difficult and successful cases are rare. The relapse rate is over 90 percent in Shanghai.

"If an addict relapses after six months the first time in rehab and longer than a year the second time around, it's considered a good record," Zhang said.

Zhang says her biggest concern is addicts reacquainting with their old drug buddies. If an addict tells Zhang to reschedule a urine test for an ambiguous reason, she knows they are taking drugs again.

"The only way is to give them a completely new life, like a job or a family reunion," Zhang said.

Zhang tries to help each addict get a job or apply for a basic living allowance from the government. She ran back and forth between an application center, residential committee, police station and the female heroin addict's home to apply for an allowance for the woman.

"There was a big rainstorm that afternoon," Zhang said. "She was moved and I think it was the first time she truly accepted me. She shared her earlier experiences with me, about how she fell out with her mother and became addicted to heroin. It was the best thing - a drug addict talking about her life to me."


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