November 9, 2007 / 2:24 PM / 11 years ago

Drugs kill 80,000 Russians annually, official says

By Conor Sweeney

MOSCOW, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Drug addiction kills 80,000 Russians each year, a senior Russian anti-drugs official was quoted as saying on Friday, while a human rights watchdog issued a report warning Russia’s drug treatment strategy needed reform. About 70,000 Russians die annually from diseases linked to drug addiction, and another 10,000 are killed by overdoses, said Alexander Yanevsky, a department chief at the Drugs Control Service.

"Russia is situated in a drugs belt. There is heroin in the south, synthetic drugs coming in from the West and rising internal production of drugs," Yanevsky said at a conference on drug control, reported RIA Novosti news agency.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) hit out at Russia’s failure to modernise or incorporate the best international practises in its addict treatment schemes and said the failures put drug users at increased risk of catching diseases.

"Patients in detoxification treatment are heavily sedated, making counselling efforts difficult or even pointless," HRW said in a statement. Detoxification centres are widespread, but since they don’t combine with rehabilitation programmes, their effectiveness is "negligible", the report said.

Russian law also bans the opiate substitute methadone from being prescribed to heroin users, despite its successful use in many countries, HRW said.

"The lack of effective drug addiction treatment in Russia means that drug users who want to break their addiction cannot, and are condemned to a life of continued drug use," said Diederik Lohman, from HRW’s HIV/AIDS programme.

"This leaves them vulnerable to HIV infection, other drug-related health conditions, and death by overdose."

Last month the United Nations urged Russia and ex-Soviet Central Asia to stem drug trafficking from Afghanistan to Europe, saying the proceeds from a record opium crop were funding global terrorism. (Reporting by Conor Sweeney)

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