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Here at the Spaso Preobrazhenski Rehabilitation Centre, rehabilitation consists of manual labor and prayer. The centre is run in association with the Russian Orthodox Church and is completely free for addicts. The brain behind this type of open-air rehabilitation is Nikolai Novopashin, a former addict and an evangelist for recovering drug users.
On a recent afternoon at the centre, Novopashin spoke to nearly 30 recovering addicts seated outside on benches. “There are businessmen and doctors who think you should all be rounded up and drowned at sea,” he bellowed. Novopashin doesn’t mince his words.
And he’s right. Despite the tough talk of Russian officials, such as FSKN’s Ivanov, rehabilitation has in many ways been an afterthought of Russia’s drug strategy.
Novopashin’s way may not necessarily be the best method. Drug policy experts and advocates both within Russia and internationally have criticized Russia for its abstinence-based approach to drug rehab.
Writing on OpenDemocracy.net in May 2011, former heroin addict and drug rights activist Irina Teplinskaya said, “Russia’s official approach to the treatment of drug addiction is based on forced abstinence. It both humiliates drug users and deprives them of their rights.”
In October 2010, Yegor Bychkov, head of the City Without Drugs Foundation in the Russian city of Nizhny Tagil, was sentenced to three and a half years in jail for kidnapping a young drug addict. But just a few months later, the charges were reduced and Bychkov was released.
It’s clear from this case that public opinion around drug abuse is very complicated.
In Moscow, a group known as Duri Net outs drugs dealers by pouring indelible ink on them. In Yekaterinburg, another branch of City Without Drugs targets Gypsy families who are thought to be involved in the drug trade.
With the government unable — or unwilling — to address a problem as serious as heroin addiction, to many there is only one solution left: dealing with it on their own.
But Novopashin said neither drug addicts nor small-time dealers are to blame:
“We should blame the people who didn’t give them a good reason to live, who didn’t give them a sense of purpose, a sense of patriotism, a sense of national identity. Then we should blame the people who made all this possible — you think heroin just falls out of the sky!?”
Ilnur Batyrshin is a research specialist for AntiDrugFront.ru, a think tank that tracks the heroin trade from Afghanistan, through central Asia and into Russia.
In a recent interview, Batyrshin told CCIR, “The heroin problem is a direct result of opium production in Afghanistan and whether we want it or not, so long as Afghanistan keeps producing opium we’ll continue to have a heroin problem. The only way to stop that is to put a stop to opium production in Afghanistan.”
Other addicts we spoke to confirmed that after the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, there was a “wave” of heroin flowing into Russia.
According to Yuri Krupnov, there is a direct correlation between the amount of heroin in production and the number of troops in Afghanistan. “As one increases,” he said, “so does the other.”
Russia would like to nip heroin production in the bud by destroying poppy fields in Afghanistan. But Canada and other NATO countries have refused to do so, saying that it is outside of their purview.