President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: The issue that has brought you together, and about which I will today hold a State Council Presidium meeting, is one that is very distressing. The Presidium will have a special session dedicated to drug dependence among youth and measures to tackle the problem.
For that reason I am very interested in knowing how you work here, the results of your efforts, the problems you have encountered, what the state can do to ensure that this work is more effective and what measures, perhaps of a legislative nature, it would be useful to take. Before my meeting with heads of ministries and agencies, it would be very useful to hear what you think.
President of Mothers Against Drugs Valentina Chervichenko: Mr President, first of all thank you for coming and for giving us your time.
Our association was founded in 1996 and is made up of 11 mothers’ associations around the region, with 174 unpaid volunteer workers. These are parents who are far from indifferent, parents who have experience of facing this problem themselves, and they form a self-help group. The group really helps us; we travel around the region and hold seminars, meetings and individual sessions for parents, teaching them how to prevent their child from falling into drug dependency. This is very important.
It is crucial that attention is now being paid to families. The individual is formed within the family, and if we do not raise someone with a developed personality, then we have a potential drug addict or alcoholic. That is why we focus so much attention on this. In 2010 around 2,000 women contacted our organisation and received some form of help.
We have very good partners and would not be able to do any of this alone. Side by side with us are a preventative centre, Volia regional state centre, the Ministry for Physical Culture and Sports… Young people help us: we have age and experience, while they have youth. We work very well together.
Dmitry Medvedev: What do your seminars focus on? What information do you give to parents? For example, how do you know that your child has begun taking drugs, and how can you try to get through to them? What programmes do you run at these seminars?
Valentina Chervichenko: We talk about the signs, and what methods of child-rearing must not be used in a family, such as an authoritarian approach. How to stop smothering or neglecting a child. These are practical psychological parenting classes. We also undertake primary preventative work by holding sessions in schools by parents.
Dmitry Medvedev: How is that received in the schools? Children can be quite difficult, as you well know. They do not always take everything on faith. How do you try to build bridges with them?
Valentina Chervichenko: Well, we communicate with the parents.
Dmitry Medvedev: It must be easier with the parents, of course.
Valentina Chervichenko: It can also be difficult.
Dmitry Medvedev: I suppose people think, ‘This cannot happen to my child who is normal and decent and everything is fine in our family.’
Valentina Chervichenko: Yes. That is our task – to change society’s attitude to drug consumption. That is what we do.
Dmitry Medvedev: This is very important, because many parents, especially in well-to-do families with adequate incomes may think, ‘Our family is completely normal, trouble-free, why would our child dabble with drugs?’ They pay absolutely no attention to Russia’s experience, or that from abroad, evidencing that consumers of drugs often come from families with high incomes, as they may have a lot of deep-rooted problems too.
Valentina Chervichenko: Yes, we read a lot of the relevant literature, we talk and we give examples. Ms Khaltaeva, if you please, tell us your story.
Mothers Against Drugs MEMBER LIDIA KHALTAEVA: My daughter fell into addiction and was addicted for seven years. For seven years we searched for a cure but there was nothing [available] at the time. So, in the end this centre was founded, and we got lucky as our daughter was successfully rehabilitated and now she has a family and a higher education. She has been living a healthy life for nine years already.
You know, we could have just died. Now we lead a normal life.
Dmitry Medvedev: That is wonderful. Yet, what did the centre offer that was not available earlier, say, in the 1990s?
Remark: In 1995 we did not even understand what ‘drug addiction’ means and could not recognise that a person was using drugs. It was ignorance.
Dmitry Medvedev: We knew the phrase, of course, but it was not an openly discussed topic. People I work with in Moscow, for example, were even saying to me that it is an unpopular subject and discussion over it should not be televised. Why? ‘Because it would upset people who have come home after work, sprawl in an armchair with a tea mug to relax but get TV stories about drug addiction instead, but they believe this problem does not affect them.’ The topic was taboo, and that taboo must be broken.
No matter how sad the topic, we must talk about it everywhere: in schools, at home, at universities and at public events, not to mention in the broadcast media and on the internet.
Remark: That is what we are doing now, exposing the problem.
”We do need to intensify the efforts of the authorities, law enforcement agencies, the Federal Drug Control Service in this respect, cutting off the supply routes, catching drug dealers and punishing them.“
Dmitry Medvedev: True though, that in the 1990s it was really tough.
Valentina Chervichenko: There was still ignorance, people were simply out of their depth.
Dmitry Medvedev: Besides, there was no practical experience of dealing with it, because this wave [of drugs consumption] swept across our country in the 1990s. This does not mean that under the Soviet authorities there was no drug abuse. Naturally there was, but not on a comparable scale.
After the borders were opened up and after habits and behavioural stereotypes changed, people began to behave differently. At the time, we need to be straight about this, using drugs became fashionable, it became a way of belonging to an elite group, and that is the most terrible part, because instead of talking about the devastating effects of drugs, both on young people and the human race in general, it turned into a leisure activity.
I will not expand on this right now, since we will soon have a State Council Presidium meeting at which all the ministers will be present, and my main point is: drugs consumption must not in any case be portrayed positively. At the moment, whether intentionally or not, the lifestyle involving consumption of drugs is widely depicted in the media or in art.
You all know why, at some moment, we banned the aggressive advertising of beer. It is because the majority of young people got the firm impression that if you drink beer, you are a high-flyer, while those who do not drink beer are, if you will, ‘losers’ and social outcasts who will achieve nothing in life.
Of course, that has never been the case with drugs, but drugs use is at times presented in different lights.
Remark: And smoking as well, it is sometimes hinted that it is almost harmless to smoke pot.
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course, absolutely. Unfortunately, the path from soft to hard drugs can be traced for practically all those who become dependent.
Remark: Often parents do not know where to go and what to do. Of course our centre helps a lot teaching them what to do and how to find a way out, so they see light at the end of the tunnel. We help [them] find a way out, not to isolate themselves, not to sit and cry, but to understand that people can recover from this addiction.
Dmitry Medvedev: Where do you usually hold the sessions for parents?
Valentina Chervichenko: We hold them here, thanks to the government of Irkutsk Region, which offered these premises to us. Public associations like ours cannot do anything without such support from the authorities.
Dmitry Medvedev: The duty of authorities is to support such activities in place.
”The state cannot effectively tackle this problem without the establishment and involvement of associations of parents, former drug users, and volunteers. Even in countries where drug offences are extremely severely punished and even capital punishment may be applied, where offenders may be executed, drugs problems have not been overcome. Only the whole of society, working together, and not its separate institutions, police or public organisations alone, can tackle this distressing problem.“
Valentina Chervichenko: Yet, we must move further helping children and saving families.
Dmitry Medvedev: Having this meeting with you before the official event is very useful, because we do need to intensify the efforts of the authorities, law enforcement agencies, the Federal Drug Control Service in this respect, cutting off the supply routes, catching drug dealers and punishing them. Yet, global experience shows that that is far from adequate.
The state cannot effectively tackle this problem without the establishment and involvement of associations of parents [of drug addicts], former drug users, and volunteers. Even in countries where drug offences are extremely severely punished and even capital punishment may be applied, where offenders may be executed, drugs problems have not been overcome. Only the whole of society, working together, and not its separate institutions, police or public organisations alone, can tackle this distressing problem. The work that you are undertaking is very welcome.
Mr Ivanov, how does the drug problem in Irkutsk compare with the rest of the country?
Director of the Federal Drug Control Service Viktor Ivanov: It is a little bit above average. But no worse than some other regions of Siberia, such as Kemerovo or Novosibirsk Regions.
Dmitry Medvedev: Indeed, this shows that the situation is still very, very difficult. In the 1990s there was no concern about people, both youngsters and adults, who were using drugs. The fact that organisations like yours have now appeared is, of course, a very good thing.
I would like to say to you that the state must encourage all these kinds of associations, because they do really useful work. Some public initiatives may possibly be less important, but this is very worthwhile public activity.
I hope that the governor of Irkutsk Region will continue to help you. Mr Mezentsev (Governor of Irkutsk Region), I appeal to you, as you have been praised in advance, so I hope that your support will be in place. This type of community activity is extremely valuable. It is encouraged around the world, and we should do that also, and provide money, grants and premises. If required, we must also adopt the right legislation to support these activities.
Thank you for your work, I wish you every success.