ROAR: “Medvedev declares war on narcotics”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Obligatory drug tests for schoolchildren and banning addicts in certain professions are among new measures that should help in fighting the evils of drug addiction in Russia.

President Dmitry Medvedev has urged new measures against drug addiction, saying it is a threat to national security. Speaking at a special Security Council meeting on September 8, he said obligatory drug tests for schoolchildren and students should be discussed.

The number of registered patients with a diagnosed drug addiction has grown by almost 60% over the past ten years, Medvedev said. There are between 2 million and 2.5 million drug addicts in Russia, he noted, adding that two thirds of them are people under 30.

The Russian media earlier quoted Viktor Ivanov, head of the Federal Drug Control Service, as saying that “around 30,000 individuals die annually from drug-related causes in Russia.”

Causes of death vary from contaminated drugs and needles to drug-related crimes, Ivanov said. After becoming addicted to illegal drugs, people live for an average of five to seven years, he added.
“The president summoned members of the Security Council to declare war on narcotics,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily wrote. “The head of state demonstrated that he is seriously concerned with the nation’s health,” the paper said, adding that an anti-alcoholic campaign was launched this summer.

Commenting on the Security Council meeting, analysts say that the punishment for drug-related crimes may now be toughened. However, Medvedev made it clear the state may also emphasize prophylactic measures and the rehabilitation of drug addicts.

Those addicts who commit minor offences might now get “a choice between criminal penalty and medical treatment,” many papers wrote.

Evgeny Roizman, president of the City Without Narcotics foundation in Yekaterinburg said that he has long been proposing obligatory medical treatment for addicts. “In the US, the so-called narcotics courts, which allow addicts convicted of minor crimes to choose medical treatment, show astonishing results,” he told Gazeta daily. “Some 99% of addicts who choose medical treatment, get it, and the majority of them are cured of drug addiction,” he added.

Some analysts propose drug tests not only for schoolchildren and older students, but also for representatives of certain occupations. The tests may be conducted in a way that does not infringe upon people’s interests, Roizman believes.

“If these measures are used, many human rights activists will protest,” he said. “But just imagine how many lives will be saved.”

Lawyer Evgeny Chernousov believes that it would be very difficult “to test regularly millions of people in a vast country.” He also stressed the need to conduct “prophylactics and field work.”

The mechanism of conducting tests has not yet been developed, the media note. The head of the Federal Drug Control Service told journalists that “parents can refuse testing of their children in writing if a child is not of age.”

Olga Kostina, member of the Public Chamber and head of human rights organization Resistance, called tests ‘the correct initative.” However, there are fears that it may “turn into a forced campaign and infringe the rights of children,” she told Vremya Novostey daily.

“A number of higher education institutes, including Moscow State University and Bauman Moscow State Technical University, have already tried to introduce tests for university entrants, but faced a serious resistance of society,” the daily noted. “Now the initiative is coming from the authorities, although Medvedev stressed that he only suggested discussing this idea.”

Many school principals asked by Gazeta.ru website, said the initiative of testing schoolchildren has emerged because “there is a problem of narcotics in schools, and one should fight it, but nobody knows how to do it.” Some principals called the measure “formal,” but failed to suggest something else, the website said. They also stressed that it was not clear how these obligatory tests would be financed.

Head of the New Narcopolitics foundation Lev Levinson believes that the program of testing schoolchildren and students will be very expensive. On the other hand, it might also be “senseless because those who know they may be caught will find ways to conceal this,” Levinson told Gazeta.ru. The tests will also “violate rights of children and their parents” because every child will be under suspicion, he said.

However, headmistress of a Moscow high school, Lyudmila Kholmyanskaya, does not think the new program will infringe schoolchildren’s rights. Drug addicts “should be isolated” because they give narcotics to their friends, Kholmyanskaya told Gazeta.ru.

She added that it was not clear how the program would be implemented, adding that there may be “protests by parents.” The headmistress also said she was surprised at the news about obligatory tests, but added she was ready to conduct them after discussing it with parents. “We do not want to test schoolchildren at the school, but we will do it,” she said.

Among other measures that will be discussed in the near future is the ban on drug addicts in certain professions and the introduction of special courts for them, Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily wrote. The strategy of the state antinarcotics policy should be developed in the first half of 2010, Nikolay Patrushev, the secretary of the Security Council, said.

In 2008, drug police confiscated some 38 tons of narcotics substances, and around 7,000 drug gangs were detained. However, the efforts in fighting drugs that have been taken so far are insufficient, members of the Security Council recognized.

One of the problems is a transnational nature of drug business. “Hard drugs are not produced in Russia,” Medvedev said.

Moscow is concerned about the amount of drug trafficking from Afghanistan. That country alone “produces twice as much opium as the rest of the world produced ten years ago,” Viktor Ivanov was quoted by Vremya Novostey as saying at the Security Council meeting.

Taking this “special status” of Afghanistan into consideration, Moscow may develop a joint program of cooperation with that country in fighting drug trafficking.

Sergey Borisov, RT