When the young Russian buried the steely needle into his arm, his arms grew heavy like sandbags. As his skin flushed red, Zhenya Murga felt brave, belligerent and extremely relaxed.
Since heroin is immediately addictive, there would be no turning back.
Drug and alcohol abuse has soared among the youth of Russia. In fact, 72 percent of all drug addicts are less than 16 years of age.
To support his heroin habit, Zhenya began robbing apartments. In 2001, he attended a 3-month rehab program and quit for 14 months, but later relapsed.
"I couldn't stop," says Zhenya, 24. "I tried to work with psychologists, but no one could help me."
During that time, he met a girl named Anya. Zhenya felt a new rush: love. He quit heroin for a month. Then Anya became pregnant and Zhenya began using again in secret. Zhenya's cravings remained an untamable monster. Eventually Anya left him. Later, his son, Egor, was born.
Zhenya felt hopeless until the day he ran into an old friend who had abused drugs until changing through a Christian rehab program called the Salvation Center. Maybe this could be my way out, Zhenya thought.
In February 2005, he enrolled himself in the Salvation Center, located on a rural farm 75 miles south of Samara. Withdrawal symptoms hit him like a freight train -- with sleepless nights and wrenching body aches. But at the Salvation Center, the participants look to God for reform.
After only 2 weeks, Zhenya sensed a deep desire to know God -- the One who receives society's castoffs. He gave his life to Jesus on March 7.
Participants stay at the center at least a year, often longer.
"Even [after 7 months], I still have a desire to use drugs," he says.
Out his window, the wind blows snow through gnarled tree branches.
Several times a week, Zhenya joins 21 young men and women in a small room for a 3-hour discussion. Salvation Center participants sharpen their faith through CrossRoads, a character-training curriculum created by Campus Crusade for Christ. Zhenya credits these discussions as crucial to his faith.
While many drug addicts turn back to drugs, the Salvation Center has yielded astonishing success. Since it started 7 years ago, only 6 out of 115 have turned back to drugs -- a success rate of nearly 95 percent.
Zhenya may be on track for lasting change; time will tell. He looks forward to being out in the world again. He hopes to make things right with Anya, to see his son. He hopes he's done with drugs for good.