Painful issue: painkiller ban targets addicts, hurting the sick

Russians are rushing out to buy painkillers due to a forthcoming government directive requiring a prescription in order to buy pills containing codeine. Although the move is aimed at drug addicts, some say it is those in real pain who will suffer.

The cause is a drug cocktail sometimes referred to as “crocodile,” virtually unknown 10 years ago, containing a mixture of gas, solvents, phosphorus and, most importantly, cheap medicines containing the painkiller codeine.

The mixture received its exotic name for one simple reason: its users' skin turns scaly before falling off. Injecting the lethal cocktail will rot a users' flesh in months. Most die within three years.

In spite of this, the mixture has recently become Russia's second-most popular drug after heroin. It is a cheaper and more easily available alternative to it.

To fight the trend, the government has come up with a simple solution: Codeine, now freely available over the counter, will be sold by prescription only beginning next year.

Statistics show that nearly half of Russians use the painkiller regularly, the vast majority of them for legitimate reasons.

So, is this measure going too far? In their fight against drugs, is the government throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Codeine is sold over the counter in most Western countries, but sales of codeine have doubled in Russia in five year, and many say this is not a coincidence.

“I think it was a mistake to start selling codeine without a prescription in the first place,” narcologist Vasily Vlasov told RT. “By making it the most easily available opiate, it has spawned this problem.”

Yet expert opinion is divided. Some believe that this does not do enough to tackle the social causes of addiction, and punishes innocent consumers.

“There is no efficient system in the country for issuing prescriptions, so the people who will suffer are the ordinary pensioners and housewives who need those medicines,” drug expert Yury Krupnov told RT.

RT managed to get into a drug den outside Moscow to ask what the drug users themselves think about the new law.

“I do not believe it will change anything. Those who want to take drugs will take drugs,” a den regular told RT. “We will buy them from the right pharmacies, and if we do not get them, we will use something else.”

“We will always have something to inject,” he added.