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Diviner's Sage and Hawaiian Rose: Sakhalin's drug problems

Throwing money at a problem doesn’t always solve it. Allocations for drug control have been increased on Sakhalin, but the addiction statistics remain uncomfortably high. Sometimes ordinary people could do more to help, says Kseniya Semyonova

There were 830 drug trafficking cases on Sakhalin in 2009.  The situation remains difficult, but under control. 173 criminal cases involving the trafficking, transportation and sale of drugs were prosecuted, and 23 charges of keeping drug houses investigated.  88 kg 391 g of drugs were confiscated.  This included about 1 kg of heroin, but most of it consisted of substances from the cannabis group.

At the same time, the local drug control office consider that these figures are not fully representative of the work done by Federal Drug Control Service staff (whose performance indicators are incidentally among the 30 best in Russia), or the drug trafficking situation in the Sakhalin Region. No one yet knows the size of the real threat, but it is important that people at the very top have begun to understand that the problem has to be addressed at central government level.  A strategy for a government anti-drug policy is now being developed. “It’s laughable to think that quite recently learned people with serious faces were discussing the civilized consumption of drugs. Today everyone already realizes that drug dependency is a hole that you can fall into after just one hit,” says the head of the department Boris Misilevich.

In the Sakhalin Region, there are 2,928 people (564 people per 100,000 of population) who are on the “at risk” register (anyone who has taken drugs at any time goes on this list). 1,231 people have been diagnosed as drug addicts (238 people in every 100,000). Compare these percentages with the figure for the Far East as a whole: the most recent figure there is 292 people per 100,000 (and 250 for Russia as a whole). At the same time, the number of people diagnosed as drug addicts on Sakhalin has fallen by 7%; the number of people on the register has fallen by 6%.

What is dangerous, however, is that drug addiction is “getting younger” – the age of people using drugs is in most cases not above 30. Young people also “smoke weed” and “take pills” in clubs (over 1,000 pills have been confiscated in Sakhalin since the beginning of the year), and recently in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk a new craze has appeared: smoking or herbal blends based on Diviner’s Sage and Hawaiian Rose. Fortunately, the government came to its senses and banned them as illegal substances, albeit with some delay.  For Sakhalin this is an extremely important decision: the Regional Department of Internal Affairs recently admitted that the distribution of smoking blends has reached catastrophic proportions. In a series of operation the police and drug control agency closed down points of sale for these drugs in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.  But it is no secret that sales have simply gone underground. Interest in them continues to grow.  In 2010 doctors diagnosed several Sakhalin teenagers with serious poisoning from smoking blends.

The Federal Drug Control Service continues to believe the war on drugs is a very complex matter and that everyone should be involved. Prevention is once more a priority. A new anti-drug programme for the region is to start in 2010:  financing has been increased by almost 25 million rubles to 46 million.  This money will go towards preventive work – social advertising and healthy lifestyle campaigns in schools etc. “Society has already realised that drug addiction is a terrible thing. Taking drugs has been out of fashion for a long time, but there is no room for complacency. I believe we need to introduce compulsory treatment for drug addiction, as this is more of a social phenomenon than a personal affair.  We should also test migrants who come to the Oblast. They are often drug users and dealers. However, on Sakhalin this problem is not an ethnic one ” said Boris Misilevich.

Steps are been taken to improve the situation in most of the Sakhalin Region. The authorities have set up an anti-drug commission, which keeps track of both positive and negative changes. The lack of doctors specializing in drug addiction in some of the regional hospitals remains a problem. Addicts can only receive qualified assistance at the drug dispensary in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.

Every year at meetings of the anti-drug commission, there is talk of the need to increase financing to solve these problems, but sometimes all that’s needed is for people to help to identify drug houses. There is a helpline at the Federal Drug Control Service in Sakhalin.  It receives up to 500 calls a year. Checks are conducted on each piece of information.

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