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Chechnya's Hidden Drug Crisis

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  • ummyakoub
    Chechnya s Hidden Drug Crisis Institute for War & Peace Reporting, UK http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/cau/cau_200308_193_4_eng.txt Thousands of young
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 31, 2003
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      Chechnya's Hidden Drug Crisis
      Institute for War & Peace Reporting, UK

      http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/cau/cau_200308_193_4_eng.txt

      Thousands of young people are turning to heroin in the war-torn
      republic.

      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
      centre.

      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
      central market."

      "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
      of HIV".

      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
      presidential election.

      "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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