Methadone Clinics Shuttered In Crimea After Russian Takeover

Methadone Clinics Shuttered In Crimea After Russian Takeover

By Shawn Dwyer 04/23/14

Following the annexation of the region, Russia dealt a devastating blow to addicts by banning methadone treatment.

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In March, Russia officially annexed Crimea from the Ukraine amidst an international conflict of its own creation. While the takeover of Ukranian military bases and the looming threat of war dominated the world’s headlines, little changes in the region went largely ignored, including the denial of methadone for heroin addicts.

Russia's drug policies have long bordered on being draconian with a zero-tolerance approach to drug use and a heavy penchant for imprisoning large numbers of drug users without offering any hope of treatment. They have also explicitly banned needle exchange programs; currently, Russia has the highest levels of intravenous drug users in the world and has seen an explosion of HIV-positive addicts in recent years.

Despite its wrongheaded approach to drug addiction, Russia has moved full steam ahead in importing its drug policies to the newly reintegrated Crimean region, starting with denying methadone to heroin addicts.

"We've been forced to reduce the dosages. The conditions of patients are already degrading," said Ihor Kuzmenko, a methadone center employee in Simferopol. "Our stocks of drugs, which were already catastrophically low, are rapidly dwindling."

Fears over what will happen to the 800-odd methadone patients in the region have even rippled over into the motherland, where people like Maksim Malyshev, head of a lobbying group pushing for more lenient drug policies in Russia, have lamented the damage about to be inflicted. "The vast majority of them will revert to illegal drugs," said Malyshev. "Even in Russia, local drug addicts have no access to free, comprehensive, quality rehabilitation treatment."

The effects of Russia’s authoritarian policies are already being felt on the streets. "It is happening at such a pace that it's going to be a massacre here," said methadone user, Sergei Kislov. "They're abandoning 130 people and forcing them to fend for themselves, even if that means we'll end up stealing again and going to jail."