CLICK here to see photos from Hattie Stein's trip.
Editor’s Note: The following, which highlights Hattie Stein's trip to Russia, is the first in a two-part series. Part II, to be published in the Feb. 8 issue, will include Stein’s trip to Poland, where she visited the Auschwitz Nazi death camp.
Late in 2008, Wright resident Hattie Stein, an addictions counselor for Catholic Social Service’s Rural Family and Behavioral Services program, was one of 25 counselors from across the United States invited to tour treatment facilities in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Once in St. Petersburg (formerly, Leningrad) she found a nation of contradiction. Homes and offices painted all the colors of the rainbow stood in stark contrast to the cloudy, grey skies that blanketed the city more than 300 days per year. In a deep-rooted desire to appear self-sufficient, people dressed to the hilt, while many did not have enough food to feed their family. Professionals – physicians, teachers, business executives – would leave their day jobs only to drive a cab or tend bar at night, two or three jobs needed to supplement the average $250 per month pay.
“You will find two and three generations of family living in the same two-bedroom apartment,” Stein said, a result of significant growing pains which began when the country overthrew Communism in the late 1980s.
“They were used to having housing, health care, school, etc... and not having to worry about making the money to do it, because the government took care of them. Now, they have to get jobs, make money, pay for their own apartment, pay for their own health care -- except for drug and alcohol treatment, which the government fully funds.”
The road leading up to “Hope on a Hill” treatment facility might be indicative of the struggle the addicted face – rocky, slow-going, but ultimately arriving at a place of peace. Hope on a Hill is a private treatment center begun with American investors. Today it is funded by the Russian government, with the help of financial donations, some coming from as far away as Hollywood.
“One of first pictures we saw on the wall was of Father Joseph Martin, an icon of recovery and the 12-step program,” Stein said. Because the 12-step program – which Stein uses in her counseling -- is based on the belief “of a God of our understanding,” the Soviet Union did not allow it within their borders until after the fall of Communism.
“Hope on a Hill was a quaint little treatment center,” Stein said. “They can treat 12 patients at a time. Then we went to another treatment center which was state-owned. It was in a very old building and not nearly as well kept. Their sleeping mattresses would be equivalent to the mats you buy for exercise. There were 40 or 45 patients there.”
There are distinct differences in the way the two countries treat addicts. In St. Petersburg, they treat drug addicts separate from alcoholics. Here they are combined. The drugs of choice in Russia are heroin, which flows freely from Afghanistan, and alcohol, Vodka being a staple in most Russian homes.
“In Russia, they ‘detox’ in their hospitals because heroin and alcohol both are high risk detox,” Stein explained. “Then they move them to the treatment center. Their treatment is anywhere from 35 to 90 days, which I think is really interesting. The Betty Ford Center and the newest research has shown that a 90-day treatment program is much more effective than 28 to 30 days. In the United States, the average is 30 days. They’re just coming out of the fog by the time they’re released, which is sad.”
In Russia, Stein explained, “They are very adamant about not using medication in their treatment. Here, for heroin addiction, a lot of times they put them on methadone, which is a synthetic heroin. In my opinion, this makes no sense -- trading one drug for another. In Russia they feel the same way. I believe in medication to help in the initial stages of detox and the first few months of recovery but to continue a lifetime of dependency on methadone or equivalent makes no sense.”
It wasn’t all treatment centers for Stein and the other American counselors (who often called the Kansan “Dorothy,” Stein said with a chuckle). While in Russia they toured many historic structures, including Catherine’s Palace in Tsarskoe Selo, the former summer residence of the Russian Imperial family and a monument of the world’s architectural and gardening arts of the 18th and 19th centuries. They also attended the Imperial Hermitage Theatre performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Ballet.
And there was a bit of foreign intrigue as well. The KGB, which was officially disbanded by Putin in 1995, is alive and well, Stein said. While the main goal of the organization, now called the FSB, is no longer is to defend the Communist party, suspicion abounds. A Marine turned minister who was along on the trip noticed that they were being followed.
“He said it’s obvious,” Stein explained. “When we went to a restaurant -- wherever we went – he said to be aware that there are these guys in suits and ties and they always have a black briefcase. And he was right. You look out the window and there would be one standing across the street. They have your itinerary, and you better be where you’re supposed to be on the days that are on your paper work, otherwise you’re hauled into the law enforcement and you stay there until the embassy can work out a deal to get you out and back to your own country.”
Stein’s invitation to Russia came in the form of a letter from NAADAC (Association for Addiction Professionals), of which she has been a member since she started in addiction counseling in 1985.
“I saw it as an international exchange of information,” Stein said. “Back in the 50s, Dwight D. Eisenhower started ‘People to People,’” which was responsible for organizing the entire trip. The organization hosts teachers, doctors, business people – all in an effort to share valuable information and insights with our overseas neighbors, and ultimately to build relationships on an international level.
“Eisenhower said that there will be more peace if it’s delegated ‘people to people’ than politically. His granddaughter is the president of People to People today.”
Upon leaving Russia for Poland where she spent an additional four days, Stein said she felt an incredible amount of pride. After Russia prohibited AA and the 12-step program for so many decades, the program, created in Akron, Ohio in 1935, is now being utilized at thousands of locations across the country, helping a multitude beat addiction.
“That was phenomenal,” Stein said.