Despite the Russian Federal Drug Control Services plans of creating a new system of drug treatment communes and labor therapy sites throughout rural areas, many activists and addicts are denying any positive changes are occurring.
According to a report in The Moscow Times, Russia's intentions of building communes, initiating treatment programs for those with low-incomes, and the impending opening of a new rehab center in a Moscow suburb, the Stupinsky district, are all being criticized by activists and addicts, as they have yet to see any changes or positive effects taking place.
Russia's idea of drug treatment “communes” are far from what we see at treatment facilities here in the West. Viktor Ivanov, Head of the Federal Drug Control Service, said the therapeutic centers and communes will be set up in those regions where there are vast areas of unoccupied farm land and a shortage of manpower and would also provide space for addicts ordered to seek treatment by courts to undergo labor therapy and agricultural work.
Currently in Russia, state-run rehab centers and church-run clinics are few and far between and often full, and private clinics are too expensive for most. Even those few centers in existence are highly criticized for the medications used, absence of proper counseling and lack of efficacy.
Ivanov has also mentioned on occasion that there is no money set aside for rehabilitation programs.
"The problem of 8 million drug users and 30 million of their relatives will remain outside the sphere of the government’s activities. The rehabilitation program has been officially approved, but without money the program will not work," Ivanov said.
If an addict is lucky enough to secure a space in one of the private or church-run clinics, they risk seeking treatment at facilities with absolutely no licensing program in place for the clinic itself or its employees and treatment providers, many of which have had frightening reports of abuse.
In 2013, Andrei Charushkinov, director of a private clinic in Siberia, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to nine years in prison after the 2011 death of one of the patients in his care. Investigators also found that Charushkinov had been abusing patients for years and warnings about the center’s abusive practices can still be found online.
Activists, specialists and addicts alike are also heavily criticizing Russia's use of anti-psychotic medications, like Haloperidol, to treat drug addiction in these facilities.
"The use of antipsychotics like Haloperidol has its roots in repressive Soviet psychiatry. At that time, these drugs were used to break the will of political prisoners and dissidents...But they are still used now to treat drug addiction," a 2012 report by the Andrei Rylkov Foundation concluded.
Another issue drawing heavy criticism is the complete and utter lack of opiate substitution therapies and harm reduction initiatives, which some say is contributing to the country's epidemic rates of diseases, such as HIV and Hepatitis C.
With Russia's refusal to provide intravenous drug users with access to methadone, clean syringes, safe injection supplies and proven treatment options, it is expected that communicable disease will only continue to grow, as well as the number of people suffering from addiction.
Reports indicate Russia is the world's largest consumer of heroin, with the country's market for the opiate estimated at $6 billion by various sources. The United Nations said last year that 75 tons of heroin was being brought into the country annually, though Russian analysts said that figure was closer to 10 tons a year.
While the amount of illegal drugs imported into Russia is in fact on the rise, Ivanov has told the Russian government’s daily newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta that the rate of illegal drug users has ceased to grow; however, it was still too early to call a victory in the war against drugs.
It is a sad situation when there are addicts desperately seeking help and next to nothing is available in terms of safe and effective treatment options. Clinics regularly turn away those seeking help due to lack of available space. If an addict is lucky enough to secure help in one of the facilities, they are faced with the possibility of abuse, stigma and insufficient or ineffective treatments.
Even if Russia succeeds in creating a new system of drug treatment communes, some wonder if denial of harm reduction models will continue to cause many desperate addicts to acquire diseases, or go untreated altogether, leaving them to needlessly suffer through opiate addiction and the devastating effects it has on the user, their family and the community as a whole.
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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