Russia and Methadone: Breaking the Ice

March 12, 2010

Russia is under strong international pressure to introduce opiate substitution treatment - watch our video and take action!

HCLU’s video advocacy team attended a press conference organized by the Russian delegation in Vienna at the  Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), where the representatives of the world's governments discussed the burning questions of international drug control policies. We asked Mr. Viktor Ivanov, the head of the Federal Drug Control Service, the largest anti-drug agency in the world, to explain why his country does not tackle the demand side problems present in Russia with evidence based interventions, such as Opiate Substitution Treatment (OST). Mr. Ivanov’s answer was partly disappointing. He said there is no evidence that methadone treatment works and in those former Soviet countries where OST was introduced it proved to be a failure. However, he also said that there is a possibility to experiment with methadone in the regional level. When on the next day we asked Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the UN agency on drugs (UNODC) to comment, he expressed his disagreement with Mr. Ivanov concerning the effectiveness of OST. He emphasized that despite his general disapproval of OST Mr. Ivanov said there is a possibility to introduce methadone programs in the regional level.

Watch our movie and learn more!
(Russian, Hungarian and English subtitles are available.
You can turn them on at the right bottom corner of the video)

The International AIDS Conference (IAC), one of the largest conferences in the world, will be held in Vienna in July this year. The motto of the conference, “Rights here, rights now”, highlights the professional and political consensus on the key importance of human rights in the fight against the epidemic. However, not every country shares this position, as we could witness at the CND this March. The delegate of the Russian Federation, together with Iran and Pakistan, made a statement against a resolution on the universal access to HIV prevention and the respect of human rights. The fight against AIDS is “not linked to human rights”, said the distinguished delegate of Russia, adding also that “we’re not at the Human Rights Council here. We’re at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. We’re looking at the non-proliferation of AIDS from our perspective.” This statement is particularly annoying after UNODC  has just released a groundbreaking report on the importance of human rights in the context of drug control policies.

 



We also interviewed Mr. Carel Edwards, the head of the drug unit of the EU Commission, who said the EU’s position is "the exact opposite of what Mr. Ivanov said", and he believes OST is based on peer reviewed, scientific evidence.” He said the EU, together with the US, keeps talking to the Russians about this issue. Audrone Astrauskiene, the Director of the Drug Control Department of the Lithuanian government said methadone substitution program proved to be a success in her country, where HIV infections were significantly reduced in the previous years. There are also positive experiences with OST in Ukraine, where hundreds of addicts got into treatment and their health and well-being improved a lot, says Dr. Sharon Stancliff, who worked in Ukraine as a consultant of the Clinton Foundation to assist OST service providers.



UNAIDS, UNODC and the International AIDS Society held a press conference together at the CND where HCLU had the chance to ask Mr. Michel Sidibé, the head of UNAIDS to comment. According to Mr. Sidibé the denial of the access to substitution treatment is a human rights violation and it is no secret that his agency has been criticizing the Russian government for its policy. His views are shared by the director of the International AIDS Society, Robin Gorna, who said her organization is “deeply concerned by the non-availability of opiate substitution treatment in Russia”.

 

 


Do you think it’s time for the Russian government to change its ways and approve opiate substitution programs?

Tell your opinion to Mr. Dimitri Medvedev, the President of the Russian Federation - below you find a sample letter, the only thing you need to do is to copypaste this letter and send it to Mr. Medvedev HERE!

Dear President Medvedev,

I would like to call your attention to a serious problem regarding the HIV epidemic in the Russian Federation. Currently there are more than a million people living with HIV/AIDS in Russia, a significant proportion of infections are due the sharing of injecting equipment among injecting drug users. Scientific evidence tells us that this epidemic can be halted by very cheap and effective programs such as the provision of sterile needles and syringes and opiate substitution treatment. These programs had succesfully fought the disease not only in developed but also in transitional and developing countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine or China. However, in the Russian Federation, with one of the most rapidly expoding HIV epidemics on earth, access to methadone, a drug listed on the List of Essential Medicine of the WHO, is denied.

I share the position of the UN agencies and almost all governments of the world that opiate substitution programs are safe and effective in reducing the harms caused by the use of illicit heroin.

Mr. Viktor Ivanov, the head of the Federal Drug Control Service said at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) this year that there is a possibility to test methadone substitution in the regional level. I kindly ask You Mr. President to take the leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS and make urgent steps to initiate pilot programs of opiate substitution treatment to reduce crime and infections and save the lives of Russian people.

Yours faithfully,

 

Posted by Peter Sarosi