Drug abuse takes heavy toll on Russian economy: Medvedev

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President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday said drug abuse was a major national threat and cost the Russian economy up to three percent of Gross Domestic Product.

The Kremlin chief spoke at a government meeting in the Siberian city of Irkutsk where officials say drug abuse is heavier than on average across the country.

"According to expert estimates, we have no fewer than 2.5 million people taking drugs. That is, of course, a scary figure," Medvedev was quoted as telling government officials.

"And 70 percent are young people under 30," he said, adding that many new addicts were increasingly younger and now in their early teens.

Economic losses stemming from narcotics abuse amounted to 2 to 3 percent of the country's gross domestic product, he said.

"Narcotics affect the demographic situation in the country on the whole and destroy the nation's gene pool, people's health," he told officials.

Due to its proximity to Afghanistan and its porous borders, Russia is among the world's top three heroin consumers along with Iran and Pakistan, according to the state anti-drugs agency.

Medvedev spoke after he met with mothers of current and former drug addicts in the city, saying the topic of drug abuse still made Russian society uncomfortable and most preferred to look the other way.

"The situation remains very difficult," he told the Mothers against Narcotics Association, a regional advocacy group. "This topic used to be taboo, which should definitely be broken."

The association's activists said the problem remained very serious partly because society was indifferent.

"Genocide is under way, the nation is being destroyed," said the association's chairwoman Valentina Chervichenko.

Another activist, Alla Chernyavskaya, said Russians still considered drug addiction a vice rather than an illness which discouraged addicts' families from seeking help.

"Society's position rests on fear and prejudice," said Chernyavskaya, whose son Dmitry, now 30, was a heroin addict for several years.

She said she was so scared of telling anyone that she tried to help him kick the habit herself.

Her methods included leaving him to live in a tent in the Siberian taiga and chaining him. He was able to go under treatment and stopped using heroin in 2006 after she finally sought outside help.

© 2011 AFP

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