President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues,
Today, we will be addressing a very difficult, complicated, and important issue – the measures we must take in order to counteract the threat posed by increasing drug use and to curb the widespread availability of drugs that we have in our country today.
Clearly, this is a very difficult task for our country. We need to talk first and foremost about countering drug circulation among young people, but we must address other related matters as well.
I would like to cite a few official figures. In the last ten years, the number of individuals diagnosed as drug addicts has grown by nearly 60 percent, while the number of drug users in our country is more than half a million people. In reality, of course, these numbers are even greater. Experts believe that the actual number of drug users in Russia is somewhere between 2 and 2.5 million people. That accounts for nearly two percent of our citizens. What’s most alarming is that two thirds of these individuals are young people under the age of 30.
I will not present information regarding which regions and districts are unfortunate leaders in the prevalence of drug use. Suffice it to say that the situation is bad everywhere – in central Russia, in Siberia, and in the Far East. In any event, the fact that drug users are so young is a serious threat to the security of our nation. It represents the greatest challenge to our nation’s health and our complicated demographic situation, and even aside from these factors, it has a very negative effect on the overall morale of our society.
As you know, the problems related to the growing drug use have not sprung up out of nowhere, and its roots are linked to much earlier events. Drug use began spreading actively during the 1990s, which was an era of greater social difficulties. At a certain point, all of these problems forced us to create a special drug enforcement agency and to provide yearly financing for its activities in a variety of areas.
There have in fact been some positive shifts. In the last year, we’ve seen a 50 percent increase in the seizure of illegal synthetic drugs. We have seized about 3.5 tonnes of heroin. However, these and other measures are still inadequate in countering the spread of drugs in our nation. We have not yet reached a fundamental turning point in our fight against drugs. This is not only due to the global nature of this problem (and this is inarguably a global threat to all nations); the problem also lies in the organisation of our work, or more accurately, in the fact that it is still not effective enough.
The problems tied to the spread of drugs have been discussed many times at Security Council meetings, as well as meetings of the State Council, the Federal Assembly, the State Border Commission, and other institutions represented here at this table. But to this day, we have not come up with an adequate government policy on preventing drug use or a federal system for locating areas where drug-containing plants are grown.
I would like to point out that this is the final year that the federal anti-drug programme will be in effect: the programme was scheduled to last through the end of 2009. It is clear to all of us today that we absolutely must renew this work. Overall, everyone agrees that we need a special strategy for a government anti-drug policy. But in addition to the strategy, which is always a general plan of action, we also need a specific and efficient forecast and an action plan for how to implement that strategy. We need new, modern methods for working in this area. This is probably the first conclusion or suggestion that I would like to make at the beginning of our meeting.
Second, we need to further improve legislation in this field, and these improvements should not involve lessening liability for drug-related crimes. Clearly, I believe that we need tougher penalties, especially for distributing drugs in public places where they may be accessible to teenagers and young people. If we want to halt the growing number of crimes committed by people under the influence of drugs, we must increase criminal liability for participating in organised drug sales or even proving indirect assistance to such activities, by giving these actions the same weight that is given to crimes against the lives and health of Russian citizens.
We must also introduce tougher penalties for corruption cases involving illegal drug activities (this is also a problem we face), as well as cases involving laundering of money acquired illegally, through the sale of drugs.
We must also discuss another issue: the suggestion to offer a choice between a voluntary treatment for addiction and a criminal sentence for individuals who have committed misdemeanours or crimes of medium gravity. This is an issue up for discussion, and I do not want to guess at the final outcome, but this practice exists in many countries, so let’s talk about it.
The third issue we must address is improving the national scheme for drug use prevention. This is an area where we must shift our emphasis from heavy-handed and prohibitive measures to treatment, post-treatment rehabilitation, and preventive measures. We need to create new centres for treating and rehabilitating affected individuals, which will help people with drug dependence return to normal life.
There are many laws that need to be refined. Speaking specifically about the Law on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, I can say that one of the principles of the state anti-drug policy is an emphasis on preventive measures. However, that element was not elaborated in this Law, nor within its bylaws. This needs to be taken care of.
Much has been said about the need for all of society to participate in the fight against drugs and the need to begin preventive efforts in schools from an early age, but we are nevertheless seeing many problems in this area. Very little time is devoted to teaching about the harmful effects of drug use in school programmes. We must give this subject matter much greater emphasis. In order to diagnose drug addiction among adolescents in a timely manner, we ought to discuss a number of strict and polemic measures, including the decision on whether drug testing should be mandatory in all schools. I suggest that we discuss this issue as well.
Clearly, we should encourage the work of organisations – first and foremost youth organisations – that encourage healthy lifestyles. We should also promote cohesive information policies on presenting this issue in the media. It is critical to show that using drugs is not a way to be accepted into some kind of special clique or youth subculture; we must show that it is essentially a step leading toward degeneration and death.
Fourth, the government needs to monitor the spread of drug use throughout the country, and carry out regular assessments of the measures we are using to counter it. If we do not have concrete data on the scale of drug use, we will be unable to actively work against it. Thus, figures are important. These figures represent the threats we face. At the beginning of my speech, I talked about how we have a very high discrepancy between the official number of drug users in our country and the estimated actual figures. Still, even this figure needs to be verified. Today, various data from different ministries and departments do not provide a complete picture of the situation in our country, and as a result, they do not allow us to evaluate the effectiveness of our work.
Finally, the last point I would like to make is that drug business is fully trans-national in nature. We all know that hard drugs are generally not produced in Russia, but are smuggled into our country from abroad. We must continue to equip our national borders with the special tools needed to control this situation. We need the most modern infrastructure and the most modern equipment. Not only do we need to effectively control drug couriers, but we also need to control freight transit, which of course is much more difficult. At the same time, we must be open to cooperation with international and foreign institutions in this field.
We understand that drugs represent an enormous danger. No one expects an immediate change in the situation. Still, it is perfectly clear that we must do everything we can in order to oppose the exceptional harm wreaked on our society by drugs.
Let’s begin working.