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Since 2001, the year American and Canadian troops entered Afghanistan, worldwide heroin production has reached record levels. The United Nations estimates that as much as 20 percent of this winds up in Russia, where there are over 80 heroin-related deaths a day. Russian officials blame NATO, but as Japhet and Yuli Weeks uncover in a series of multimedia reports for CCIR Investigates, Russia offers little in the way of treatment for the country’s 1.5 million addicts. ‘Russia’s Afghan Addiction’ is also available at the Global Post, with major funding provided by the Open Society Institute.
by Japhet Weeks
Yuri Frolov, 24, started using heroin when he was 16 and living in the city of Kostroma, north of Moscow.
Kostroma isn’t known for heroin. The city of almost 300,000 is on Russia’s Golden Ring, a collection of picturesque cities northeast of Moscow visited by tourists for their typical Russian architecture and onion-shaped church domes.
My wife and I met Frolov in May at a drug rehabilitation centre in the countryside in southern Russia, near the city of Stavropol. The centre is austere. There is no running water and residents have to use outhouses. It’s part work camp, part monastery. The ascetic lifestyle and fresh air are thought to help addicts give up their dependencies. But this bucolic patch of land in the rolling hills of the northern Caucasus comes as a shock for many of the young addicts, who are used to cell phones and urban apartment blocks.
Before he came to the centre, Frolov had never worked with livestock. Here he is in charge of collecting water from a nearby reservoir via horse-drawn carriage. In his free time he works with the centre’s horses in a sprawling field.
Frolov had been clean for five months when we met. He is broad-shouldered and tall. But there is something delicate about his long face and green eyes.
Sitting on a concrete slab near the stables, Frolov spoke of how easy it was for him to purchase heroin back in Kostroma:
“There was a Gypsy village only three miles from the town I’m from. You’d go there. There’d be cops standing outside. You’d pay them 100 rubles to get in and 50 rubles to get out. The gypsies would yell at you, ‘Buy from me. I’ve got the best stuff.’ You didn’t need to look or anything. There was good quality heroin everywhere.”