has the right idea on drugs
|Under new laws
being drawn up addicts would be forced into treatment or jailed, and
dealers 'treated like serial killers'
Boris Gryzlov with Vladimir Putin in 2007. Gryzlov says the scale of
the country's drug problem 'threatens Russia's gene pool'.
Drug dealers are to be "treated like serial killers" and could be sent
to forced labour camps under harsh laws being drawn up by Russia's
Boris Gryzlov, the speaker of the state duma, the lower house, said a
"total war on drugs" was needed to stem a soaring abuse rate driven by
the flow of Afghan heroin through central Asia to Europe.
Russia has as many as 6 million addicts (one in 25 people). Every year
100,000 people die from using drugs, Gryzlov said in a newspaper. The
scale of the problem "threatens Russia's gene pool", he said. "We are
standing on the edge of a precipice. Either we squash drug addiction or
it will destroy us."
This year, President Dmitry Medvedev said drug abuse was cutting up to
three percentage points off economic growth.
Injecting drug use is also accelerating Russia's Aids crisis because –
unlike most other European countries – methadone treatment is banned
and needle exchange programmes are scarce, meaning the virus spreads
quickly from addict to addict via dirty syringes. An estimated one in
100 Russians are HIV positive.
Under legislation promoted by the ruling United Russia party and now
being reviewed in parliament, drug addicts will be forced into
treatment or jailed, and dealers will be handed heftier custodial
sentences. "The barons of narco-business must be put on a par with
serial killers with the appropriate punishment in the form of a life
sentence," said Gryzlov, who is chairman of the party.
Activists criticised the idea of putting addicts behind bars, pointing
to a growing worldwide consensus that treating drug users as criminals
has failed as a strategy.
The Global Commission on Drugs Policy said in a report last week that
there needed to be a shift away from criminalising drugs and
incarcerating those who use them. Gryzlov, however, claimed that
"criminal responsibility for the use of narcotics is a powerful
Special punishments should also be considered for dealers, he added:
"Sending drug traders to a katorga [forced labour camp], for example.
Felling timber, laying rails and constructing mines – that's very
different from sitting in a personal cell with a television and a
fridge while you keep up your 'business' on the outside."
While it remains unclear how many of the measures will become law,
other leading members of United Russia – which is headed by Vladimir
Putin, the prime minister, and which dominates the duma – said they
supported the initiative.
The plans follow an admission by Medvedev in April that Russia's fight
against drug addiction had failed. He called for radical measures such
as mandatory drug tests in schools.
Possession of small quantities of psychotropic substances in Russia
carries an administrative fine of up to 15,000 roubles (£330),
but Gryzlov indicated it would now result in a jail term. The state
should offer narkomany – addicts – a stark choice, he said: "Prison or
That could be a bleak prospect. Some of Russia's detox clinics still
use "coding", a controversial therapy in which patients are scared into
thinking terrible consequences (such as their testicles falling off)
will result if they mix drugs with medicines which are actually
Several activists condemned Gryzlov's suggestion to "isolate" drug
users from society.
"Sending more people to prison will not reduce drug addiction or
improve public health," said Anya Sarang, president of the Andrey
Rylkov Foundation, an advocacy group for people with HIV which works
with injecting drug users (IDUs). "Russian prisons are terrible places
full of HIV, tuberculosis and other diseases. Drugs are often even more
accessible there than anywhere else."
She added: "What we need instead of this harsh drug control rhetoric is
greater emphasis on rehabilitation, substitution treatment, case
management for drug users and protection from HIV."
HIV prevalence among IDUs in western countries is 1 or 2%, but lack of
outreach work and the absence of opiate substitution (methadone) and
other "harm reduction" measures mean the figure is 16% in Russia –
rising to 60% in hotspots such as St Petersburg.
Denis Broun, the Moscow-based director of UNAIDS for Europe and central
Asia, told the Guardian that Gryzlov's proposals could make matters
"It has been widely shown that criminalising people using drugs simply
drives them underground and makes them much harder to reach with
preventative measures," he said. "This is not an effective strategy for
fighting HIV. Purely repressive measures do not work."