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Experts say consistent and resolute efforts needed to combat drug threat in Russia

September 18, 2013, 16:11 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara

MOSCOW, September 18 (Itar-Tass) - Drugs are a real threat to Russia’s national security. This is recognised by the authorities and measures are being taken to address the problem. But experts say these measures are not enough - more consistent and resolute activity is needed to challenge the menace.

Official statistics posted on the Russian government’s website are really dismaying: some 8.5 million Russians, or about six percent of the entire population, are on drugs and psychotropic substances. Notably, official statistics report five million drug addicts in Russia in 2011. It means that over the past two years, the number of drug abusers has increased by more than a half.

Speaking at a meeting of the state anti-drug committee on Tuesday, head of Russia’s federal anti-drug service Viktor Ivanov admitted that the drug situation in the country was serious. “According to recent monitoring results, more than 18 million people (about 12 percent of the population) tried drugs at least once, and about eight million people use drugs regularly,” he said, adding that from 20,000 to 30,000 people, or the population of a small town, die annually from drug-related causes.

The reason for the high mortality rate among drug addicts is the lack of an efficient rehabilitation system to help former drug addicts socialise as balanced and well-adjusted members of society. Not more than five percent of drug abusers recover from their addiction. Note should be made that the bulk of the burden of rehabilitating former drug addicts rests with non-government public organisations.

The Russian anti-drug chief said the programme for a national system for comprehensive rehabilitation of drug addicts had already been drafted and would soon be submitted to the Russian president.

An immediate task, in his words, was to arrange anti-drug work at municipal levels - to identify addicts and motivate them to be treated, to elaborate rehabilitation programmes and create rehab centres. Further on there would be work on post-rehabilitation programmes including employment assistance, and last but not least, to mount drug prevention campaigns.

These tasks are set out in the state anti-drug programme for the period from 2013 to 2020, with an overall financing of 212.6 billion roubles (1USD=32.2 roubles at the current exchange rate), of which 23.42 billion roubles are planned for use in 2013.

A law on drug testing for schoolchildren comes into force in Russia from December 7, 2013. According to Prof. Yevgeny Bryun, chief narcologist of the Russian Ministry of Health, the law will be applicable to all students of secondary education institutions. From 10 to 13 percent of senior pupils had tried drugs at least once, he said, citing statistics. The percentage for students of higher education establishments is still higher, at from 15 to 30.

“We must do our utmost to change this state of things,” Ivanov said, noting that only less than one percent of drug abusers return to society.

However, opposition activist Yevgeny Roizman, known in Russia for his anti-drug activities and who was elected mayor of Russia’s Urals city of Yekaterinburg on September 8, strongly opposes any government involvement with the work of rehab centres for drug addicts. “We don’t need any government financing,” Roizman, a founder of the City without Drugs foundation, maintains. What is really needed, he says, is a clear-worded compulsory treatment law and a national network of government-funded state-of-the-art rehabilitation centres.

An advocate of compulsory treatment of drug addicts, Roizman faced criminal charges of illegal deprivation of freedom more than once. His City without Drugs rehab centre has harsh rules, under which people taken there by their relatives are practically deprived of civic rights.

“As a matter of fact, Russia’s anti-drug chief Viktor Ivanov seems to be willing to use Roizman’s methods, but he expresses not his own position but the official stance,” said Sergei Markov, a member of the Russian Public Chamber and Pro-rector of the Russian Plekhanov University.

In his interview with Itar-Tass, Markov outlined his plan of anti-drug campaigns. The first thing to be done, in his words, is to ensure that drug dealers have no backing from law enforcement bodies. “It is a secret to no-one that two thirds of law enforcers’ incomes come from protection racketeering,” he said. “If top officials from Russia’s security services, interior ministry and the prosecutor general’s office were appearing on federal television at least three minutes a day to say that law enforcers suspected of maintaining drug mafia connections would be inevitably put in prison, the drug trade would have halved.”

The second step to make, according to his programme, is to impose compulsory drug testing for all senior school pupils and students of higher education establishments. The relevant law that is coming in force at the end of this year, in his opinion, is weak. “It should be as simple as that: if you want to study, you must pass the test,” he said, adding that such tests among students result in a 10- to 15-fold decrease in drug use.

Last but not least, according to Markov, treatment of drug addicts should be mandatory as long as their relatives decide so.

Markov tried to answer the question why the number of drug addicts was growing in Russia. It is happening, he said, because the authorities “are lacking the will to do away with the drug threat.”