It's got to be karma, baby. Hippies and ravers have been flocking to the town of Goa on India's west coast for sun, sand, and illicit substances for decades. Now this druggie beach haven has become the latest destination for the country's booming medical tourism industry--as a center for cut-price rehab.
At Anjuna Beach, past the coconut palms, stray elephants, and vendors hawking rainbow "Party-Goa!" T-shirts, a number of clinics have set up shop to provide treatment for Western addicts who are willing to travel thousands of miles to get clean. "Goa is the perfect place to come for drug detoxing and rehabilitation because it's so relaxing," says Dr. Jawaharlal Henriques, chief physician at St. Anthony's Hospital and Research Centre, a 40-bed facility in Goa whose official address is Near Anjuna Petrol Pump. "Foreigners are coming to India for every other kind of medical treatment, so why not rehab?"
He's right. With health care in disarray at home, an estimated 6 million Americans a year are now going abroad for procedures ranging from tummy tucks to heart transplants. India is a top destination, with a medical outsourcing business worth $1.7 billion.
The palm trees of Goa might be a draw, but the biggest attraction of kicking drugs here is the price. Henriques offers packages starting at $3000 for a 15-day residential program (the price excludes flights, which can cost $1000 to $1500). Betty Ford, by comparison, costs around $17,000 for the first 15 days, while deluxe clinics such as Promises (favored by the likes of LiLo and Britney) can run a choke-inducing $48,000 a month. "We get every nationality here, and our success rate is very high," says the doctor, who has treated 96 Westerners in the past year, 20 of whom were women, including a German fashion designer hooked on cocaine and a British journalist "hooked on everything," he says.
Interestingly, the doctor's detox methods don't include ancient Indian meditation, massage, or yogic techniques--you need to stay in California for those. Instead, after the patients' initial withdrawal period, they get packed off to lie on the beach and swim in the sea, with a picnic of vegetarian samosas and fresh mangoes. "I send staff with them to ensure they don't relapse," says Henriques, who is a trained medical doctor. "Sunshine is an excellent therapy."
His clinic is not just for pampered Westerners. Among the current patients is Samila, 31, a heroin-addicted schoolteacher from Iran who hit the clinic in desperation after her boyfriend overdosed and died. Samila has been at the clinic for 11 days and is making strong progress. "The first week was very hard, but already I feel like a new person," she says. "Coming here is saving my life for sure." Now that really is good karma.