Home Institution

Washington University in St. Louis

Publication Date

Spring 2019

Program Name

China: Health, Environment, and Traditional Chinese Medicine


Opioids have had a long, complex position in Chinese society, dating all the way back to the Ming dynasty. In 1949, 5% of the overall Chinese population and 25% of the population in Yunnan smoked opium regularly, which led to societal collapse and economic downturn. Since then, the Chinese government has used many different methods to attempt to control drug use and trafficking, including registering all users, executing traffickers, and using Compulsory Rehabilitation Centers. Starting in 2008, the government switched to a harm reduction approach and began to invest in methadone clinics, community support groups, and needle exchange programs. Because not much research exists on the effectiveness of peer support in China, this aim of this study was to gain a deeper understanding of the effectiveness of peer support groups and other natural social support systems and also determine Chinese society’s perceptions of drug use and whether this affects the recovery experiences of people who use drug.

Nineteen former drug users, sourced from a methadone clinic in Kunming, were interviewed concerning peer support services, their natural support systems, and perceived discrimination. One hundred and twelve responses were also received from an online survey sent out to the Chinese public aimed at understanding the stigma and discrimination against people with drug addictions. From analyzing these responses, this study came to a couple main conclusions. First, peer support groups for those recovering from addiction in Kunming are not widely used and limited in their effectiveness. Instead many participants in this study relied on familial support and distancing themselves from others with drug histories. Furthermore, discrimination and stigma against people with drug addictions are very high and make reentry into society difficult for many. China has come a long way in its handling of its narcotic abuse problem, but there still remain many gaps in social support.


Asian Studies | Chinese Studies | Medicine and Health | Mental and Social Health | Public Health | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Social Work | Substance Abuse and Addiction


Article Location