Millions of Russian Drug Addicts Have No Rehab, Little Hope

By Paul Gaita 06/26/14

Despite being overrun by addiction, Mother Russia appears at best disinterested in dealing with a worsening problem.

russian drug addict.jpg
Recovery in Russia is bleak. Photo via

Though international news about Russia has largely focused on President Vladimir Putin’s military entanglement with the Ukraine, another crisis within the country’s borders has come to light: the plight of Russia’s 8.5 million drug addicts.

A 2013 report from the Federal Drug Control Service of the Russian Federation (FSKN) stated that an estimated 8.5 million Russian citizens are addicted to drugs, a figure that has risen considerably over the last few years. More than 70,000 of them die each year from drug abuse, with about 30,000 of those succumbing to heroin.

Russia is the largest consumer of heroin in the world, spending $6 billion a year on pure heroin smuggled by the ton annually through its borders. Methadone from the Ukraine is also found in abundance, as is synthetic marijuana and desomorphine, a virulent, homemade drug also known as krokodil made from codeine and other substances, including paint thinner and gasoline, which can cause hideous tissue damage and infections that eat away at the user’s skin and muscles.

For the addict seeking treatment in Russia, there are few options. Only a handful of state-run centers have been established, and private clinics are either priced far beyond the means of the average citizen, with some charging the equivalent of $230 a night. Few of these private clinics are regulated by any agency, and there are stories of physical abuse and over-reliance on anti-psychotic medication like Halperidol, a drug commonly used to treat schizophrenia. Methadone is not an option, as the government has prohibited its use, resulting in a skyrocketing increase of HIV-positive cases.

Despite these harrowing numbers, the FSKN appears to show little ability to address Russia’s drug problem with efficacy or even honesty. In a recent interview, FSKN head Viktor Ivanov claimed a degree of victory by noting that the number of drug-related deaths in his country – which hovers around 100,000 ever year – had ceased, and that more addicts were voluntarily agreeing to seek out treatment. But Anya Sarang, president of the Andrei Ryikov Foundation for Health and Social Justice, a drug addiction awareness group, said that Ivanov’s numbers were “chosen at random. There is no research to prove what he is saying.”

Skepticism regarding the FSKN has run high for a number of years. The agency was charged by a 2010 governmental degree to establish a nationwide rehabilitation system, but no progress was made until this month, when Ivanov announced a plan that would include the creation of communes in rural areas where addicts facing court-ordered treatment could receive treatment in the form of labor therapy – essentially serving as farm workers. But the plan has drawn criticism for ignoring primary issues like specialist training or licensing rehab centers; furthermore, Ivanov has gone on record as saying that there is no money to fund any program, which nullifies the effort before it has even begun.

The conundrum of the Russian rehab issue underscores what many see as the core problem of the FSKN’s involvement in substance abuse treatment: the agency that was initially charged with prosecuting drug offenders has now been appointed to help rehabilitate them.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.