Chechnya's Hidden Drug Crisis
- Chechnya's Hidden Drug Crisis
Institute for War & Peace Reporting, UK
Thousands of young people are turning to heroin in the war-torn
By Zaurbek Eskirkhanov in Grozny (CRS No. 193, 29-Aug-03)
On the outskirts of the Chechen capital Grozny, a young man is
trudging across an overgrown field. His name is Hasan. He is now 26,
and he has been taking heroin for many years.
"Every morning, I wake up with only one thought - where to get the
money for another dose," Hasan told IWPR. "When I get the money
together, I run across the field to my dealers."
Hasan is one of thousands of drug users in Chechnya, according to
Rosa Dalsaeva, deputy head doctor at the republic's detoxification
According to the official statistics, there are 10,000 drug users in
Chechnya, 10 per cent of whom are HIV-positive. Unofficial estimates
suggest the real number of addicts is twice that figure. The habit is
growing fastest among people under 30, who account for than three-
quarters of all users.
"This is far too many for Chechnya, where the population is under one
million," said Dalsaeva.
Drug addiction has been a largely-ignored consequence of the years of
conflict in Chechnya.
Hasan's story is fairly typical. His mother told us he had been a
promising student in school before he discovered heroin. He was an
athlete, and was all set to go to college after high school. But then
the second Chechen war broke out four years ago, and his hopes and
dreams were shattered.
"In 1999, we moved to Ingushetia [as refugees]," recalled
Hasan. "Having nothing else to do, I roamed the streets of Nazran.
One chilly autumn day, I ran into a former classmate outside the
"He suggested heroin. I was feeling really homesick, and needed a
distraction. So I let him inject me. It was a good, happy feeling
that helped me deal with life. I gradually developed a habit. I've
been using heroin for four years, and I don't plan to give it up."
One effect of wide-scale intravenous drug use in Chechnya is the
spread of HIV infection. Olga Dedova, a psychologist at the AIDS
Prevention Centre in Grozny, said the majority of HIV-positive people
there had been infected through drug use. "They usually tell me they
were first offered drugs by a friend," she said. "To save money, a
group of junkies will share a syringe, without caring about the risk
There are 310 HIV-positive Chechens on the AIDS centre's books. "Most
of them are drug addicts," said Dedova.
"I've had to go to jail once since I became a junkie," said Hasan,
scratching his head with his swollen hand, his eyes misty and
bloodshot. "I stole something at the market. I was on withdrawal and
so weak I couldn't run, so they caught me right away. I did one year."
Hasan tried to kick his habit in jail, but once he got out, he went
back on heroin the very next day.
Drug use has always been a feature of life in Chechnya, and a lot of
young men smoked marijuana before the war. But the trauma of conflict
has made the problem much worse, turning young people from soft to
hard drugs, mainly heroin.
"In Grozny these days, it's as just as common to see a junkie as to
see an armed man," Musa Dalsaev, Chechnya's chief detox doctor,
recently said on television.
The Chechen prosecutor's office reports an average of around one
thousand crimes a year related to drug dealing. Ahmed Dakayev, deputy
interior minister of the republic, told IWPR that the dealers are
largely out of reach of the law. "We mainly target users. The big
fish - the wholesale dealers - remain at large," he admitted.
"This year, we have arrested four drug dealers," said Alexander
Kashin, police chief in the Zavodskoy district of Grozny. "You'd
think an arrest with a lot of evidence is final, but it isn't."
"Last month we nailed a dealer who was holding a huge stash. The
court pronounced him guilty, but as the verdict was announced, a
group of armed people in masks stormed into the courtroom, pointed
their guns at the security guards, and took the defendant away."
There is a spot at Grozny's central market that they call the "stock
exchange". This used to be the place to buy weapons, cars and drugs.
These days, the exchange consists of a couple of dive-in bars with
pool tables, frequented by drug dealers and their steady clientele.
A dose of heroin retails for around a hundred roubles - a little over
three US dollars - in Chechnya, according to Ruslan Ilyasov, Grozny
police narcotics chief. "Chechnya has the cheapest heroin in the
country [Russia]. In any place torn apart by war you have high prices
for food, and low for drugs."
The heroin may be cheap, but it is of inferior quality and especially
dangerous. "What they sell here is a much worse substance than pure
heroin," said Sultan Elimhajiev, an aide to the Chechen health
minister. "The death rate is high among drug addicts in Chechnya. 150
died last year alone."
The drug problem has surfaced as an issue in Chechnya's upcoming
"The whole world is fighting drug addiction under peacetime
conditions, where the state has a lot of resources at its disposal,
law and order prevails, and there are special centres that focus
specifically on substance abuse, or fight the drug mafias," said
Moscow businessman Husein Jabrailov, one of the candidates. "Here in
Chechnya we have no drug prevention or treatment facilities. Our
young people are unprotected, socially and economically."
Hasan's neighbours in the village of Michurino recall his friend
Albert, a junkie who had a long track record of using heroin. A year
ago he was found dead in his home. The forensic expert who inspected
the body concluded that his heart had stopped after an overdose.
"Before he shot up that night, Albert told me it was going to be his
last hit," recalled Andiev. "I didn't know what he meant exactly. I
thought perhaps he was about to quit, but he turned out to be right,
in a different way."
Zaurbek Eskirhanov is a reporter for Grozny Inform news agency and
Molodyozhnaya Smena newspaper in Chechnya
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