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Synthetic drugs conquer Russia

September 30, 2014, 17:23 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© ITAR-TASS/Dmitry Rogulin

MOSCOW, September 30. /ITAR-TASS/. A brief advertisement painted on the asphalt sidewalk of a Moscow street read: “Wanna smoke?” Next to it was a phone number. A curious old woman stopped in surprise: “What are they selling there, cigarettes or what?” “Come on, granny! Don’t you know it’s the phone number of a pusher who trades ‘salt’!” was the reply from the old lady’s teenage grandson.

The sad truth is that despite his young age, that boy - like many of his age-mates in Moscow and across Russia - knows that this is a type of smoking blend mixed with a synthetic drug, a chemical equivalent of cannabinoids. In everyday use, it is also referred to as “spices” or “salts”.

A real spice epidemic hit three regions of Russia of late. The drug has killed a dozen victims and seriously harmed 300 others. Over the past three weeks, deaths from synthetic drugs have been registered in the Kirov region, Khanty-Mansi autonomous district and the Vladimir region.

“Spices” are drugs favoured by youths - they are relatively cheap and easy to come by. The mayor of Yekaterinburg and founder of the City Without Drugs foundation, Yevgeny Roizman warns that spices are several hundred times more dangerous than marijuania. “They are even far more hazardous than heroin.

“Whereas an addict to heroin can sometimes be literally pulled out of the grave, with spices and salts it is far more tricky. Any course of rehabilitation treatment can yield at least some effect only after four months, and not earlier. And more often than not it proves useless,” Roizman said.

The effects are really catastrophic: Kidneys fail, strongest tremors and epilepsy hallucinations are frequent.

Salts are most often used by high school students, he adds. “Such addicts never live to the age of a university student. Besides, smoking blends are the most frequent cause of teenage suicides. Most often the victims of ‘salts’ just step out of the window.”

Many volunteers have joined the struggle against spices. In many cities, groups of activists have attacked tobacco shops that were selling smoking blends. As a result, trade in spices has drifted into the Internet.

The daily Moskovsky Komsomolets quotes Roizman as saying the precursors are brought into the country from China as household chemicals. “All the drug dealers in Russia have to do is make a solution of the poison, spray it onto any medicinal herb on sale at a drugstore and then put it back into the box. A spice cooked in this way cannot be distinguished from quite harmless daisy, salvia or oak bark.

The drug solutions are usually made in makeshift conditions. Nobody cares about proportions. The slightest overdose may kill the client.

“Several years ago we intercepted a conversation between a dealer and his men. He advised them to use a 1/20 (not 1/10) proportion because the ‘clients kick the bucket too often’,” Roizman said.

According to experts, up to 80,000 people in Russia develop an addiction to spices a year. These chemicals ruin the brain virtually in no time. Dimentia develops very fast. “Now it is pretty clear that the synthetic drugs are well in the lead, and the age of consumers goes down with every year,” daily Komsomolskaya Pravda quotes the chief of the psychiatry and narcology department at the Khabarovsk Job Retraining Institute, Igor Loginov, as saying. “The patient goes crazy, and even if he or she is helped out of a condition similar to insanity, the brain is ready to go through it one more time and even demands a repetition.”

Odd as it may seem, many spices in Russia are not considered drugs. State regulators classify smoking mixtures as “psychoactive substances.” They can be sold and bought without restrictions. Last year, the government at the initiative of the Federal Drug Control Service FSKN issued orders to complement the list of narcotic substances and their precursors with new types of “dangerous psychostimulators” found in some spices. But the problem is that when this or that substance is put on the blacklist, some smart dealers instantly change its chemical formula slightly and formally the new drug is no longer under a ban. It usually takes about a year to update the list.

“New substances are not prohibited at once. As long as there is no proof they are a variety of narcotic drugs these mixtures can be sold without restrictions,” the government-published Rossiiskaya Gazeta quotes the chief of the Federal Drug Control Service, Viktor Ivanov, as saying. “The situation is getting ever more risky as a new type of drug is generated every second day. New drugs emerge at a speed 300 times greater than the government makes decisions.”

The drug control service has more than once called for outlawing smoking mixtures as such, but not a single agency that was expected to produce its conclusions regarding the initiative has given its consent. The State Duma is in no hurry to consider the issue in defiance of proposals by experts, either.


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