He does not want his full name used, and he asked me to protect his identity, so I’ll just call him ‘Elias’.
He lives in Rio Branco, the capital of Acre – the tiny Brazilian state that borders Bolivia and Peru in the Amazon region.
Elias once had a good job as a technician, a loving wife, and two kids aged three and seven. He almost lost it all when he got hooked on a new drug sweeping Brazil called Oxi – a deadly cocaine bi-product twice as powerful and addictive as crack.
Elias has been in drug rehabilitation three times in the past couple years.
Below is his first-hand testimony about his experience with Oxi and the great lengths he went to get his next hit.
The interview, which has been slightly condensed and edited for clarity, was conducted in-person in Rio Branco.
Gabriel Elizondo: Do you remember the first time you used Oxi?
Elias: I was living in Bolivia at the time. I was studying and working there. One weekend I was drinking, and I said I was going to go to Brazil. I went to the city of Epitaciolandia in Brazil.
I crossed the border from Bolivia, just to have a beer, and I met some people. They offered me a can and said, ‘try this.’ It was Oxi. I tried it and I fell in love with it. And I could never leave it.
That was 2005. From there it started to go downhill for me.
GE: You told me that before you used Oxi you used some marijuana and cocaine. How is Oxi different from those drugs?
Elias: Oxi is a drug that is a prime material to make crack cocaine. But Oxi is more pure. The effect of Oxi is very strong. When I used it, I could not go without it. The desire to use it was very big. It is so powerful, that in a matter of weeks I was totally addicted. I didn’t eat. I didn’t feel hungry. You lose hunger, and you’re desire for sleep.
But above all, it is very cheap. One rock can get you four inhales and it’s only five reais (about $3). Compare that to cocaine, which is about 100 reais a dose (about $61).
Oxi is cheap, you have easy access to it, and it is more devastating than other drugs and does more damage to your body faster.
Elias remembers how his addcition effected his kids. Photo: Maria Elena Romero/Al Jazeera
GE: Oxi was first noticed in Brazil 2005, here in Acre state. You live here, in the capital, Rio Branco. Has the drug had an effect on the people here in this city?
Elias: Oxi is a very popular drug now here in Rio Branco. It’s a drug that is devastating and getting everyone addicted. Before, when I lived in Rio Branco 20 years ago, there didn’t exist as many addicts because at that time Oxi didn’t exist. And then after that Oxi appeared on the streets, many people got addicted to it.
On the streets today I see people I used to use the drug with and they are like zombies walking around, going crazy.”
GE: How did your use of Oxi effect your family?
Elias: I would leave my house to use Oxi, and left all my family at home. My kids would start crying saying ‘dad, dad!’ I don’t like to remember this.
My kids suffered a lot. When I left to use the drug they stayed at home crying … When I speak about my kids I get very emotional, it’s very hard. One time I even sold my kids new clothes to buy Oxi.
GE: Did your kids understand your drug addiction? And what about your wife?
Elias: My kids are very innocent, they are very young. They don’t understand a lot of things.
But the older one, when I used Oxi at home, he told me, ‘father why do you smoke, you get weird when you smoke that?’
When I smoked in the house my kids could smell it the smell stays inside the house. All of this still weights heavily on me. I can’t believe I made my kids smell that.
GE: And your wife?
Elias: “My wife is a woman who never quit on me. But one day she old me, ‘OK, you have to choose between me and your kids, or Oxi.’ I chose Oxi. You can see how strong that drug is. And since I picked the drug she then said, ‘OK, I won’t quit on you, because I have faith in you.’
And until today she is still here with me. We have been together 16 years.”
An Oxi user in a dark park in Rio Branco. Photo: Maria Elena Romero/Al Jazeera.
GE: Your worst moment using Oxi was when?
Elias: One time when I was smoking Oxi, my heart was beating so fast I fell on the ground and passed out. And then I woke up and saw the drug, and I used it again. I smoked it again.
At that point, I knew I was going to die. I got to a point that I could not live any longer with the drug or without the drug.
GE: You are in the final stages of your third attempt at drug rehabilitation. Do you think you will ever relapse to use Oxi again?
Elias: No, I will never return to that because I look at myself in the past and I don’t want that anymore in my life.
Today I can sit at the table with my family to have lunch. I can enjoy a birthday party with my kids. I realized that I don’t want to go back – there was too much suffering. But I admit, occasionally the desire for the drug is still there.”
Follow Gabriel Elizondo on Twitter at @elizondogabriel
Al Jazeera will air a two part series on Oxi in Brazil on Tuesday, May 17 and Wednesday, May 18.
This interview was conducted last week in Rio Branco, Brazil.