Tijuana, Mexico – An extreme form of drug and alcohol rehabilitation in Mexico is beginning to attract U.S. citizens, many of whom believe that a tough-love treatment may succeed where 12-step programs have failed.
Known as “anexos” or “granjas” (“annexes” or “barns”), informal Mexican rehabilitation centers have sprung up around the country that are run by former addicts and favor hardline treatments and mental toughness over sympathy and submission to a higher power.
“Many of us have done the 12 steps, but Mexican culture is not as forgiving toward recovering addicts as our northern neighbors,” Jesús Tapia, director at Tijuana’s Casa Recuperación, told Fox News Latino. “Here we find it’s a lot more effective for patients to feel they have fully atoned and paid for their wrong doings.”
The anexo phenomenon began in the 1980s when former addicts, disillusioned with the lack of Mexican state concern for their disease, established private rehabilitation centers.
The anexos, most of which are independent institutions charging around $500 for a three-month program, have proliferated in Mexico, and word of them has reached the United States.
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The past two years have seen a surge in U.S. citizens – particularly Mexican-Americans – at Tijuana and other border city facilities.
“Our U.S. patients generally arrive for two reasons,” said Jesus. “U.S. rehab is very expensive, and are difficult for Mexican immigrant families to afford, but also many Latino families have more faith in a less sympathetic, more punitive, form of recovery.”
“We feel that being treated by former addicts is more effective than by medical professionals,” he said. “Rather than following set medical procedures, we try to reach patients on an emotional and spiritual level, by sharing our own experiences.”
While purporting to focus on recovery, the anexos have gained a notorious reputation in Mexico as violators of human rights, where patients are held against their will, suffer both physical and mental torture, and suicides are common.
“'Welcome to hell,' was the first thing they said to me when I arrived,” said Moises Tevez, who had been taken across the border against his will by his family from his home in the Walnut Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, and checked into Una Nueva Vision in Tijuana’s Zona Norte.
“I had been through the 12 steps in L.A., but quickly slipped up,” he told Fox News Latino from Una Nueva Vision. “The Mexican model is much more extreme.”
“The only steps they concentrate on are four and five,” he said. “The first thing when you arrive is being forced to admit all the terrible things you have done, and then you are constantly reminded of that throughout the process.”
Steps four and five of the 12 step program are:
4. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
“Humiliation plays a big part,” Tevez said. ”They wear you down before you can be built back up again.”
Asked whether he felt the program would keep him away from narcotics upon completion, Tevez was unsure.
“There’s definitely less sympathy on this side of the border,” he told FNL, “so I suppose that makes the personal accountability more real.”
Despite Tijuana having one of the highest densities of rehabilitation centers in Mexico (at least 110 centers, with over 200 AA groups around the city), the rates of patient regression hang at 95 percent.
“Most of our patients are crystal meth users, which can be nearly impossible to resist for recovering addicts,” said José Morales, director at Una Nueva Vision where Tevez is a patient. “Over half of all the meth that reaches the U.S. market comes through Tijuana, and narcotics are available on every corner.”
“If our patients return to their old routines when they leave, a return to use is almost a certainty,” Morales said.
“We have less contact with our North American patients when they go,” he told Fox News Latino, “but we assume the same is true north of the border.”
Unlike AA-run rehab centers in Tijuana, the anexos are not controlled by any organization, and patient treatment is subject to the whims of ex-addict "padrinos" (godfathers) behind closed doors.
Dr Julio César Ramírez, chief of medical staff at the $1,000-a-month Durango State-run Mision Korian, says the anexos are dangerous places.
“You simply don’t know what you’re getting if you check into an anexo,” he told Fox News Latino. “Programs run by former addicts are unpredictable, and there’s no guarantee of a patient’s safety.”
Many notorious anexos falsely use the AA logo in order to trick concerned families into bringing their family members, while others have "kidnap teams" which specialize in forcing addicts into the institutions against their will.
Cuauhtémoc Avellano, 56, the day manager of the Fundación Durango anexo in Central Mexico, was forced into the rehab center against his will 11 years ago by a kidnap team employed by Fundación Durango. A recovering crystal meth addict, today Avellano heads up the kidnap team himself, forcing the more belligerent drug addicts into the center on the request of their families.
“It was a real fight to get me in, but they eventually overpowered me,” he told FNL. “Looking back, it was the only way I was ever going to go into rehab, and I see it was for my own good, but it was very stressful at the time.”
He says the kidnapping of patients is a relatively easy operation. “We make sure their families take away any guns or weapons they might have, and they tell us where they will be at a specific time.”
“Six of us arrive and forcibly abduct them. It can be very stressful for everyone involved.”
Mexico’s authorities pay little attention to the anexos, given that the majority are based out of private properties in residential areas, and legal jurisdiction is more complicated than with public institutions.
“The anexos are successful in giving patients a sense of the pain and suffering they have often caused others, but patients’ families must be very careful about which organization they choose,” said Jesus Tapia. “A three-month stay can be very a long time if you’re in the wrong place.”
Alasdair Baverstock is a freelance writer based in Mexico.