Vice Squad
Thursday, January 08, 2004
Russia Does Not Believe in Reducing Harms

Back in his halcyon early-November days as a guest blogger at Crescat Sententia, Vice Squad noted the negative reaction of members of the Moscow City Duma to US-sponsored harm-reduction measures that promoted the use of condoms to combat AIDS. The Moscow legislators thought that the condom information and distribution promoted prostitution along with condoms. Now it looks as if hostility towards harm reduction in Russia has taken another step forward, according to this RFE/RL report (scroll down to the third article for January 8) sent along by friend of Vice Squad Bridget Bukevich. This time, it is needle-exchange programs that have earned the ire of Russia policymakers, and it looks like participants in such programs who do not cease and desist could face jail. Here's a paragraph from the RFE/RL (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) report:

"Aleksandr Mikhailov, deputy chair of State Narcotics Control, sent a letter dated 19 November 2003 to the chiefs of his agency's territorial offices, expressing concern about various organizations "actively imposing on public opinion the idea of implementing so-called 'harm-reduction' programs," involving distribution of disposable needles for drug addicts to combat AIDS infection through the practice of sharing needles, reported on 16 December 2003. "The leadership of State Narcotics Control views this idea as nothing other than the open propaganda of drugs," wrote Mikhailov. He added that passing out fresh syringes or cleansing packets would be construed legally as providing the means for the use of drugs under 1998 Supreme Court Resolution No. 9 on narcotics, banning "any deliberate actions aimed at causing another person to wish to use drugs (persuasion, offering, provision of advice, and so on)." Under other drug laws, only narcotics prescribed by a doctor may be legally used, and appliances such as syringes can be confiscated."

...and later in the same report: "With the official number of HIV cases registered at 235,000, and estimates ranging from 700,000-1.5 million, and diagnoses almost doubling annually since 1998 according to UNAIDS, there is an urgent need to try anything that might stem the infection, which unlike other parts of the world, mainly comes from drug injection." But, to repeat my uncharitable encapsulation from the previous Russian harm-reduction post, the authorities apparently believe that deterring the use of drugs is so important that they must threaten drug injectors with the death penalty (via AIDS), even though that approach has not been very effective so far -- and those who disagree and attempt to distribute needles (or perhaps even to inform addicts of the importance of using clean needles and not sharing) must face prison for their impudence.

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