Russia Draft Drug Policy says no to harm reduction

The Russian State Anti-drug Committee developed and posted on their website a Draft Strategy of the National Anti Drug Policy which makes controversial statements and has important omissions that threaten the future of HIV prevention among injecting drug users (IDUs) in Russia. Among key objectives the strategy indicates  (Section 3.2). The Draft Strategy further calls substitution treatment and syringe exchange a risk and equates the latter with drug propaganda (Section 7.3).

The strategy as it stands neglects or misrepresents crucial issues. It mentions neither HIV/AIDS, nor the importance of preventing HIV and other negative consequences of drug use. While Russia is home to more than 1,8 million injecting drug users and is one of the leading countries driving the HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (estimated 37% of IDUs are living with HIV, and Hepatitis C rates reach up to 90% in some settings), the Draft Strategy fails to refer to any drug use related health consequences, including HIV and Hepatitis C.  

In the meantime, WHO used the World AIDS Day to call for implementing comprehensive prevention strategies for injecting drug users, including harm-reduction interventions such as opioid substitution therapy and needle and syringe programs as key means in getting the HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe under control. Since November 24, 2009, the strategy has been available on the Anti-Drug Committee’s website for feedback from experts and the public. The strategy and related feedback will be discussed at the meeting of the Government Drug Committee on December 15, 2009. At the moment the Russian Harm Reduction Network (RHRN) and the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (EHRN) are preparing their comments for submission. EHRN sent a letter to UNAIDS, UNODC, UNDP and WHO requesting that they provide their expert opinion to inform the development of a comprehensive anti-drug strategy and facilitate the dialogue between the Anti-Drug Committee’s and other stakeholders participating in this process.