Gifu opens women-only dorm for drug addicts

Chunichi Shimbun

A month has passed since drug rehabilitation center Gifu Darc opened the first dormitory in the Tokai region for female addicts.

The center, in the city of Gifu, currently has only one female patient, 28, who was identified only by the pseudonym Aya, who is taking her first steps toward rehabilitation.

The woman started out sniffing paint thinner when she was 17 before moving on to marijuana and stronger stimulants. At age 26, she was arrested and imprisoned for drug-related offences.

After her release, the woman returned to her home in Gifu Prefecture but was unable to overcome her addiction. She began visiting Gifu Darc, whose employees are all former — but fully recovered — drug addicts, after a friend told her about it in March 2012. She signed up for the all-female dormitory when it opened in March.

“I hope many women can regain their health and spirits at this facility,” said Gifu Darc head Kaori Toyama, 48.

The center is one of a chain of similar facilities that have been set up across the country. The first was Tokyo Darc, established in 1985. In the wider Chubu region, which includes Tokai, there are branches in Aichi, Mie, Gifu, Shizuoka and Nagano and Shiga prefectures.

Gifu Darc opened in 2004. It has a staff of three and relies mainly on donations to operate. The facility, which also has a male dorm with two patients, can accommodate a total of six patients and sometimes receives inquiries from outside the prefecture.

The facility used to be a private residence before it was converted into a rehab center. Every day, the patients take part in exercises and group meetings to discuss their experiences.

Yoko Isamu, 34, is in charge of running the female dormitory.

“The curry we made together was delicious, wasn’t it?” the woman asked Isamu as they chatted in the living room.

“Yes, you’re quite the chef,” Isamu said with a smile.

The woman had never cooked before.

“I used up all my money on drugs. I don’t even remember what I used to eat back then,” she said.

The woman leads a regulated life, beginning her days at 7:15 a.m. with a 30-minute cleanup of her room. “When I was doing drugs, I didn’t even care about how dirty it was,” she said.

Isamu manages the welfare benefits Aya receives from the government, and gives her ¥2,000 a day for living expenses. Learning how to manage money is considered an important step in the program, and patients are expected to purchase their own groceries.

Isamu almost always accompanies Aya when she leaves the dorm, paying close attention to make sure she is never alone so she won’t be tempted to use drugs again.

“I don’t think it’s constraining, because I want to recover from my drug addiction,” the woman said.

As a former drug user herself, Isamu spent 12 years in an all-female dormitory in Miyazaki Prefecture before she fully managed to kick the habit.

“I got rid of my own addiction by staying in the dorm, so I want to be by (her) side as much as possible,” Isamu explained.

The woman has been off drugs since she started visiting Gifu Darc a year ago, but there are no guarantees when former drug users return to society.

According to the National Police Agency, 59 percent of those arrested in 2011 for breaking the stimulant control law were repeat offenders.

“Female (offenders) show a stronger tendency of needing to find a place to belong after they are released from prison, and it’s easier for them to relapse if they don’t find that,” said Dr. Koichi Amano, 70, an expert on substance abuse at Kakamigahara Hospital in Gifu Prefecture.

Aya is slowly getting used to her new life in the dorm, and its strict regulations.

“When I re-enter society someday, I’m sure that my experience of living here will give me the confidence I need,” she said.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published April 8.