The devastating effects of the Russian 'ban on methadone' are being felt in Crimea, with as many as 20 former Methadone Maintenance Treatment (MMT) patients having died since its implementation.
According to a report from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), not only have up to 20 former patients died, countless others are suffering from untreated diseases such as HIV/AIDs and Hepatitis, while others still are trying to flee the area in a desperate bid to find the treatment elsewhere.
"The deaths of tens of people were identified in a report by an internal mission of the European Commission at the end of May," said Pavlo Skala, of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine. "We are talking of, at least, 20 patients."
They were among hundreds of opiate addicts in Crimea who were cut off from treatment when Methadone Maintenance was banned with Russia's annexation of the region.
"Nearly 700 people have been taken off replacement therapy and about 60 at being treated in health-care facilities" said Sergei Donich, a former regional health minister and current deputy prime minister in the region's de facto government.
While area activists firmly stand by methadone's effectiveness, Russian authorities continue to deny it has any efficacy, with the De Facto Crimean Prime Minister Donich explaining that "the money and interests of pharmaceutical firms stand behind it."
Donich also denies that anyone has died as a result of the methadone ban, and insisted that that those who are suffering from other diseases such as AIDS and Hepatitis, are receiving "proper medical care."
But again, activists and former patients stress that this is not necessarily the case. According to a former patient who spoke with RFE/RL and asked to be only identified as Oksana, many of these addicts are in a very dark place.
"Many of them are thinking of suicide," she said. "And several have already tried. There is no way out for those who are still there."
Opiate withdrawal can be an agonizing process, often leading addicts right back to their drug of choice in a desperate bid to stop the physical pain and mental anguish of withdrawal.
Kyiv-based NGO "Rebirth" has so far been able to secure the funding and resources necessary to send 57 of the former patients to other areas of Ukraine where Methadone is still available to those struggling with opiate addiction.
Unfortunately, 57 is an extremely small number compared to the hundreds of methadone patients now cut off from the treatment, forcefully thrown back into a state withdrawal and active addiction.
Without access to Methadone Maintenance Treatment and proper medical care, the future remains bleak for the hundreds of addicts remaining in Crimea, struggling with little to no options remaining.
K. Lanktree is a NewsOK contributor, Freelance Writer, Former IV Drug User, Methadone Patient and Harm Reduction Advocate. For more information, check out her blog.
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