Monday, December 28, 2009

Russian Blames West For Heroin Rise

6:28am UK, Wednesday December 16, 2009

Amanda Walker, Moscow correspondent

Russian authorities have told Sky News that Western forces in Afghanistan are to blame for the country's status as the world's biggest heroin consumer.

The head of Russia's anti-narcotics federal agency says that British troops in Helmand Province are not doing enough to stem production of the world's deadliest drug.

"Sixty percent of all opiates in the world are produced in the area that the British forces are responsible for," said Viktor Ivanov.

"There were 25 hectares of opium in 2004. Now there are 90,000. This shows you how effective they are."

Vast swathes of borderland between Russia and Kazakhstan are prime territory for smuggling heroin from Afghanistan; road and rail are the primary methods of transit.

The drug is smuggled through Central Asia by train. Bundles are ejected for pick-up en route. Some are seized - many are not.

There is not a single vein left anywhere. Not in my legs, not in my feet, my thighs, stomach or my chest.

Zhanna, drug addict

Twenty kilos of heroin were seized earlier this year from conductors who were smuggling it on board the train from Tajikistan to Moscow.

But such hauls are just the tip of the iceberg - only 4% or 5% of heroin coming into Russia is actually captured - a small fraction of the estimated 60 tonnes that arrive from Afghanistan each year.

St Petersburg is one of the worst affected cities in Russia.

Away from the architectural grandeur lies its darker side. Heroin is rife and support is scarce. A small bus is the only needle exchange in the entire city. Methadone substitution is banned. Both mean a big problem with HIV.

Heroin addicts Alexsei and Zhanna in Russia

Alexsei and Zhanna are both HIV positive heroin addicts

We met Alexsei and Zhanna in their cramped top floor flat. Both are HIV positive heroin addicts. Because of her usage, one half of Zhanna's body is paralysed. She has not left the flat for three years.

She said: "There is not a single vein left anywhere. Not in my legs, not in my feet, my thighs, stomach or my chest.

"I used to even shoot up in my forehead and my eyes. Wherever you see a bit of blue vein - you stick a needle in there."

Younger generations are also falling victim to the drug's ubiquity.

Outside a metro station, we spotted a boy who looks no older than eight. He and his friends are incredibly open about their drug use. They say they steal and wash cars to get enough money to inject daily.

Russia has an estimated 2.5m heroin addicts - most are under the age of 30. For a country in the midst of a deepening demographic crisis, the prospect of a lost generation is a terrifying one.