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Harm Reduction in Russia

A human rights travesty

by sheryl jarvis

Harm Reduction in Russia
Harm Reduction in Russia

In Russia those with serious problematic drug use issues has been on the rise. This is particularly true where opiate narcotics are concerned. The numbers of those addicted to heroin are increasing at alarming rates. Once hooked, users have little chance to escape the cycle of addiction. This is because Russia bans substitution therapy. Both governmental officials and health experts have stated that substitution therapy's like methadone are no way to treat addiction. Leaders in psychiatry and addiction had this to say: “The effective way to solve the problem of drug addiction treatment is an intensive search for and introduction of new methods and means that focus on complete cessation of drugs use by patients with addiction, their socialization into a new life style free from drugs, but not on exchanging from one drug to another.” With the high levels of poverty in Russia many users cannot afford to purchase heroin. Desperate to shake off the terrible flu like sickness (magnified in intensity multiple times), users have turned to a home made substance referred to as Krocodile. The technical term, desomorphine is a derivative of morphine. It is made fairly simply and cheaply from codeine, which does not require a prescription. It won its street name, Krocodile because of its effects on the user. Injected without further purification, Krocodile literally rots the flesh. It becomes scaly and green. These symptoms are actually signs of phlebitis and gangrene. Some studies have estimated the life span of Krocodile users to be 2-3 years.

For more info about Krocodile see;


Russia is facing a time of great civil unrest. People are tired of the awful conditions under which they have been forced to struggle for many years, tired of the lack of commitment from their leaders regarding change, and sickened by wide spread corruption. Where “leaders” feel they are entitled to take from the people, even while the people do without.

It has finally become widely accepted in many parts of the world that those who use drugs problematically do so in order to temper emotional agony – and not simply because the drug itself has become a problem. There are underlying issues which make it undesirable to stop. If getting high is your only means of escaping from terrible life circumstances, and depression, then how on earth can people expect you can just quit and move on.

Unfortunately many countries like Russia criminalise drug use itself, and even the treatments (save abstinence) which are known to save lives. This creates conditions where drug users are unnecessarily exposed to HIV, and HCV; a mentality of judgment which prevents people from seeking medical treatment when its needed; and disgustingly high rates of death.

Russia is faced with the fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in the world. And unlike most other countries sex is not the primary method of transmission. Injection drug use accounts for as many as 80% of new infections. See the below stats. on Russia 1996-2006 as documented through the UN.


Of the nearly 400,000 people living with HIV approximately 14,000 are receiving treatment.

55% of those diagnosed with HIV are persons between 15-24 years of age.


There are those who are fighting back and speaking out.

Alexei, a former prisoner advocates for drug users one person at a time. His sister is HIV positive and terrified to seek medical attention for fear of judgment and mis-treatment.

Read his story here:


Masha Ovchinnikova is an activist and project coordinator at FrontAIDS, a Russian AIDS activist group in Moscow. The group advocates for expansion of needle distribution and exchange programs, as well as access to discrimination free AIDS treatment and for methadone maintenance programs to be widely instituted.

Currently only about 3% of drug users in Russia have access to safe injecting equipment.

See FrontAIDS at:




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