Russia's Heroin Problem Reaches New Heights, as Leaders Squabble

By Kenneth Garger 07/14/11

In Russia, mandatory treatment can be indistinguishable from a prison sentence.

Russian President Medvedev Gets Schooled.
Photo via dailycaller

Back in mid-April the President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, presented the Russian government with his novel idea of forcing mandatory drug treatment upon the country’s drug abusers, in lieu of jail time. To gain further support, Medvedev eventually stressed that such drug treatment should not be perceived as an easy alternative to time behind bars, but rather as a punishment. Medvedev instructed his staff to review the proposal and present him with the decision in two months. And just as Medvedev’s staff was about to release its stance on the treatment proposal, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spoke out against compulsory drug treatment, thereby pulling the rug out from under his former pal on this issue. Ria Novosti, the Russian International News Agency, reported that Putin spoke at a regional conference of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party in Yekaterinburg where he opined: "It is important that a person should not feel abandoned... that his nearest and dearest, parents, school, colleagues and the state do not abandon him.” That’s really sweet, but it’s a weird argument to make against mandatory treatment in place of long prison sentences, which, in Russia, are often difficult to tell apart in the first place.

According to the report, Russia has endured a catastrophic heroin epidemic, with an estimated 2.5 million active users and 30,000 deaths annually—a direct result of Afghanistan’s world-leading production and exportation of heroin. Afghanistan is believed to produce over 90% of the world’s heroin supply. Russia is certainly a country in need of solutions that positively alter the outcome of their losing battle against drug addiction. But Putin may have a point: Is the act of forcing drug treatment on convicted drug abusers really the best approach?

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Ken Garger is a reporter for the New York Post. You can follow him on Twitter.