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Addiction affliction

April 18, 2011

Rampant heroin addiction in Russia is threatening to undermine economic growth and accelerate population decline. Social taboos make it difficult for addicts to seek the clinical help they need to kick their habit.

Heroin being made on a spoon
Russia is suffering from rampant heroin addictionImage: picture-alliance / dpa

Heroin addiction in Russia has become a major national threat, cutting economic growth and accelerating an already sharp demographic decline, said President Dmitry Medvedev during a meeting with mothers of drug addicts on Monday.

Russia is located close to Afghanistan, the world's top heroin producer, and has long porous borders that make trafficking relatively easy. The rate of heroin addiction in Russia is the third largest in the world.

"According to expert estimates, we have no fewer than 2.5 million people taking drugs," said Medvedev. "That is, of course, a scary figure."

Medvedev went on to say that narcotic abuse leads to economic losses that amount to between 2 and 3 percent of Russia's gross domestic product (GDP) per year.

Demographic decline

"Narcotics affect the demographic situation in the country on the whole and destroy the nation's gene pool, people's health," Medvedev added.

Afghan men in opium field
Russia's proximity to Afghanistan makes drug trafficking relatively easyImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

The United Nations' World Health Organization says heroin has also fuelled Russia's HIV/AIDS epidemic, the fastest growing in the world.

In addition, high rates of heavy smoking, alcoholism, pollution and poverty coupled with a decline in birth rates after the collapse of the Soviet Union have led to further demographic decline.

The UN projects Russia's population will shrink from 143 million to 116 million by 2050.

"Genocide is underway, the nation is being destroyed," said Valentina Chervichenko, chairwoman of the Mothers against Narcotics Association.

Social taboo

Health workers have criticized Moscow for not taking measures to reduce the danger of heroin use, such as introducing needle exchanges and even legalizing the drug.

Negative societal stereotypes toward drug addicts make treatment difficult. Alla Chernyavskaya, the mother of a recovering drug addict, said she helped her son kick his habit herself because she was afraid to talk to people about his problem.

"Society's position rests on fear and prejudice," she said.

Author: Spencer Kimball (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler