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President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon,
Our meeting today addresses a subject that is indisputably a threat to our national security. This is the fight against drugs. Today we will discuss how we can combat the spread of drug use among our young people.
This issue has received a lot of attention – we have the State Anti-Drug Committee at work, and we approved a year ago the Strategy of the Russian Federation National Anti-Drug Policy until 2020, but we have yet to see much visible change for the better.
Drug addiction is a global threat and it has spread across our country too, unfortunately. This is not just a recent thing, not a problem that began just yesterday, but we do see nonetheless that the situation is better in some regions and worse in others.
We are meeting in Irkutsk because the drug situation in the Irkutsk Region is somewhere in the middle: there are places here where the situation is far from good and drug use has increased considerably, but at the same time, it is not the worse region in this respect and represents the statistical average, with all the problems that drug use among young people creates.
According to the UN, more than 100 million people in the world regularly take drugs. Most countries that we would call civilised find themselves engaged in a never ending battle with this deadly scourge. We need to join this battle too.
The experts estimate that we have at least 2.5 million drug users in the country. This is a frightening figure, all the more so when you think that 70 percent of these drug users are young people under the age of 30. What is especially serious is that over the last five years, the age at which our youth start trying drugs has fallen to a catastrophically early age of 11 or 12 – just children in other words, year 5 or 6 school pupils.
As of January 1, 2011 we had 650,000 registered drug users, but the experts say that the real number is much higher, and I cited it just now. This is a problem that requires not just our immediate attention, but will be an issue we are going to have to address in the long term too.
Of course, we all know that drugs affect the population situation in our country, destroying genetic potential and undermining people’s health. According to the law enforcement agencies’ statistics, more than 200,000 drug-related crimes are committed every year. And drug users certainly are not engaged in productive activity or any sort of constructive labour.
As a result, the analysts estimate that our country is suffering economic losses equivalent to at least 2 percent of our GDP. These are just the economic problems. There is also of course the immense tragedy and harm that drug use causes to people themselves, their families, and all of society.
I will outline a few priority areas where we should take additional measures. The main goal of our action is to reduce demand for drugs, especially among our young people.
First, we are to establish rapidly a state system for monitoring the drug use situation, to develop and approve the methods that this monitoring will use. This will at the very least give us greater opportunities for obtaining accurate information on the actual extent of drug use among our young people and make the necessary adjustments to our efforts as required.
”Drug addiction is a global threat and it has spread across our country too, unfortunately. This is not just a recent thing, not a problem that began just yesterday.“
I met at the rehabilitation centre today with mothers who have faced this problem, and some of them went through many trials indeed when their children were using drugs. I talked with them about the fact that this is an issue that we are often reluctant to talk about openly. It is not an easy topic to talk about, but we must discuss it openly. The state monitoring system will help us to form the base for our drug use prevention efforts.
These prevention efforts are the second priority area for action. This naturally requires an active anti-drugs information campaign, as I said, ongoing work with risk groups, and support for volunteer movements. I think this is particularly important because all around the world not just state agencies are engaged in the fight against drugs – and their effectiveness is not always evident in any case – but volunteer groups are involved in this combat too. These groups are engaged in what is perhaps the most difficult work of all, at the grass-roots level in the various regions. I hope the regional governors here today will say a few words on the situation in their regions in this respect.
I saw how this work has been organised in Irkutsk Region. On the whole it makes a good impression, the people engaged in this effort know what they are doing, and the conditions are modern. These efforts clearly cannot solve all the problems, but I would say this work has already achieved quite an advanced level.
On the whole though, we must do far more to raise the effectiveness of our prevention efforts.
Another subject I discussed today at the rehabilitation centre was the problem of popularizing drug use. This is quite simply a crime, not just in the criminal law sense, but in the moral sense too. In some information environments promotion of drug use reaches absolutely massive proportions. If we take the internet, for example, there are more than 10,000 sites (according to current estimates) openly advertising drugs. Of course this is having a devastating effect too.
I want the regional governors to take personal supervision of the drug use prevention efforts, and of drafting and implementing programmes to promote healthy lifestyles among young people. Finally, we must offer the public organisations engaged in promoting healthy lifestyles normal conditions for their work, all the more so as their demands are not in any way excessive. They are not asking for mansions and luxury, but have perfectly reasonable needs when it comes to the facilities they require for setting up rehabilitation centres and other establishments. It is therefore the governors’ responsibility to keep this under their control.
Of course, it is especially important to step up our work in schools, vocational colleges at all levels, and in universities. Perhaps it would be worth looking at making special courses a part of the study programmes, especially in the worse-affected regions, and in educational facilities that have seen an upsurge in drug use. The situation varies widely from one place to another, after all. In some places things are better, and in some places it is a real disaster.
I will not name any specific educational establishments right now, so as not to offend anyone, but everyone has heard of problem cases, and even in Moscow people come to me and say that the situation in this or that university is simply a disaster. Drug use has been spreading very rapidly, and added to this are the drugs coming in from Central Asia. Students are bringing in drugs and selling them. The Federal Drug Control Service has information on such cases, and the rectors of the universities themselves are aware of the problem too and must bear adequate responsibility.
”Some parents cannot simply accept the thought that this problem might affect their child, and are therefore against letting their children be tested, but at times it is these same children who end up being treated by the rehabilitation centres.“
The third task is early detection of drug use. The practice of testing schoolchildren for drug use has already been tried and approved in the regions. This is not an easy issue of course, because far from all parents were happy about the idea that their children would be tested. True, most arguments are based on the ethics and the need to respect the right to privacy. But I think that aside from these lofty notions there are also other aspects we must keep in mind.
To be honest, some parents are quite simply afraid to address this topic and cannot accept the thought that this problem might affect their child, and are therefore against letting their children be tested, but at times it is these same children who end up being treated by the rehabilitation centres. There is an ethical side to the matter of course, but there is a legal side too. The parents who know what drug use is really all about and have lived through the tragic degradation or even death of their children realise the importance of these early detection tests.
Whatever the case, it is time to make a decision on this matter. This requires not a local solution, not each region taking their own approach, but a federal law, because otherwise we would end up with not all schools being in the same position here, and this would be the worst road to take. If we decide to implement this policy we must do so on the basis of a federal law. I believe that, unfortunately, the situation has now reached a point when we have no choice but to take this road. Let’s discuss this matter further during the meeting today.
The fourth priority area is treatment, rehabilitation and subsequent re-socialisation of drug consumers. Demand for these services already outstrips by a long way what the state agencies can provide. Moreover, the number of drug treatment facilities within the healthcare system has dropped over recent years, and their financial situation and the state of their equipment leave a lot to be desired.
Inpatients usually spend no more than two weeks at these centres, and as a result, the number of long-term remissions (according to the information at my disposal in any case) is no more than 2 percent of the total patients undergoing treatment.
There are 160 state drug treatment facilities in Russia, and around 400 non-government organisations are involved in rehabilitation work, some of them set up by church parishes.
We should establish a full-fledged modern system for medical and social rehabilitation of drug addicts. Definitely, these efforts are to focus particularly on minors. We also have to establish national standards for provision of these rehabilitation services, so as to avoid the kinds of problems that have cropped up in their work from time to time.
”Popularizing drug use is quite simply a crime, not just in the criminal law sense, but in the moral sense too. In some information environments promotion of drug use reaches absolutely massive proportions.“
We therefore need to settle our priorities today. One of them is clear – the introduction of innovative medical and social rehabilitation methods. The working group also proposes drafting a system of measures aimed at giving drug consumers incentives to break free of their addictions.
This is enough to get our discussions started today. I am not going to spend time on saying banal words. You all understand that what is at stake here is our future, our children’s and our country’s future. We have a duty to try to get this situation under control today.
Let’s start work.
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In Yandex, I just looked up desomorphine online, and the first result that came up in the search was ‘method of production.’ What does this mean? It means, first and foremost, that people are not even trying to find out what desomorphine is, but how it’s made.
We understand that searching for particular content is not a crime or a violation of the law. But the presence of this kind of information on websites does constitute a certain breach or crime, and even though I always speak out in favour of freedom on the internet, I absolutely agree that in cases of an evident violation of the law, the internet service providers have every possibility to terminate these sites’ operation. Some may say, ‘to hell with it, they might stop it, but a mirror site will pop up, or a website will appear abroad.’ These are excuses for the lazy. Those websites must be shut down. Clearly, it is difficult to terminate them all immediately, but nevertheless, we are to act; otherwise, all of these problems will continue to flourish – both the preparation of explosives and the production of drugs.
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In conclusion, I will sum up our meeting. I will not talk about what still remains to be done, because we understand the scope of the problem, and unfortunately, its scope is only increasing, and not just in our country alone. Thus, there are a few points I’ll make to elaborate on what we’ve discussed today.
Drug testing schoolchildren. I assume that the purpose of testing is to help parents, who are lawful representatives for their minor children, and to help the minors themselves, who use or try drugs. In my view, the assistance here involves organising the necessary activities, such as early detection and prevention of negative consequences. This concerns schoolchildren.
In principle, I would be satisfied with any option for launching these activities, because we all agree that what matters is the result. A hundred percent drug testing will lead to a situation when declining to undergo tests would be embarrassing, whether such tests are obligatory (which indeed involves certain conflicting aspects the Justice Minister mentioned) or voluntary. What matters is that in moral terms the general public attitude to drugs consumption will become unequivocal.
I therefore believe that we should proceed as follows. You will continue designing the two-phase testing mechanism, but at the same time, I think, we must nevertheless encourage federal constituent entities and give them the opportunity to introduce testing under the current laws, of course, without breaking the system that exists today.
We are entirely capable of providing in a special law regarding schoolchildren, or in a law already in force, a possibility for federal constituent entities to enact resolutions on a regional level for introducing drug tests. Certainly, the procedures and methods for the tests should be designed by the Government and the Healthcare and Social Development Ministry following discussion with other agencies. Thus, we will get the regions involved in this effort with the Government offering methods and determining phases.
”Treatment, rehabilitation and subsequent re-socialisation of drug consumers. Demand for these services already outstrips by a long way what the state agencies can provide.“
As for drug testing university students, this is a more complicated issue, which in my view of a lawyer has to do with the fact that most students are of full age, and therefore legally capable individuals, whose parents cannot make decisions for them. They must make decisions independently. That is why I liked the seemingly simple idea voiced by the rector of Moscow State University.
Today, when visiting the rehabilitation centre, we discussed the fact that many private universities abroad have established a rule stating that studies at a university and student status are not compatible with the use of drugs. If you are caught taking drugs, off you go. State universities abroad do not have such rules.
Whatever the case, universities’ constituent documents and articles may be amended to list respective requirements and a set of possible response measures. I am not saying that the penalty for one-time drug use at a university should be expulsion; I think that would be impractical and wrong. But nevertheless, there needs to be a certain legal barrier that should be made known to all students – or, to be exact, to all applicants who seek enrolment to a given university. In other words, people must understand that a university enrolment means a conscious choice of a certain line of conduct. If you want to follow a different line, you must leave. After all, everyone is to some degree entitled to choose their own destiny.
Thus, I think that we are to explore this idea. I am instructing the Education Ministry to look into it in terms of amending statutes at universities, both public and private. Of course, as far as private universities are concerned, they may only be offered a recommendation.
Next is the situation concerning over-the-counter sales of codeine medications used as the core for producing a corresponding group of drugs. I think the Government should be instructed to give the situation an ultimate assessment.
It is clear that a significant proportion of this type of medication is going toward the preparation of drugs. This is an absolute fact, and we must confront the truth directly.
At the same time, we understand that requiring strict prescriptions could cause problems for many people, given – let’s be frank – our disorganisation and the corruption at many establishments. Thus, I concede that we may employ some kind of step-by-step approach, or perhaps this can be launched in specific pilot zones, so that we can see the effect of requiring prescriptions for these medications.
I just saw a table showing how in most countries pharmaceuticals of this kind are prescription-only, but not everywhere. There is a so-called maximum quantity of codeine in pharmaceuticals permitted for free over-the-counter sales: 15 milligrams in Australia and New Zealand, 12 milligrams in Great Britain, etc. In other words, each nation approaches this matter in its own way.
Given that many of the negative processes in our country get out of control, I think that perhaps we will have to introduce more decisive steps.
Overall, I want the Government to assess this from both the standpoint of protecting our people from a barrage of these types of drugs, and from the standpoint of convenience for those who receive those pharmaceuticals – and to present me with a conclusive resolution for this issue.
I fully support the idea advocated by the Federal Drug Control Service, to introduce liability for recreation and leisure establishments, if they are known locations harbouring individuals high on drugs. Of course, this should not apply to cases of one-time presence of drug users, since in that case, we may as well close all of those establishments; they cannot be held liable if visitors show up intoxicated. I am talking about a more sophisticated procedure to be designed. But in general, if an establishment is essentially used for drug consumption, turning into a drug den, then the administrative liability of this establishment’s owners may come under question, while in certain situations, perhaps it may involve criminal liability. But in my view, it would be more effective to consider shutting down such establishment. I suggest developing a draft law on this matter.
”We should establish a full-fledged modern system for medical and social rehabilitation of drug addicts. Definitely, these efforts are to focus particularly on minors.“
Another topic that is most relevant today is introducing liability for crimes under the influence of drugs, and alternative measures of punishment, as well as qualifying drug consumption as a criminal offence. There are certainly arguments for and against this. True, there are certain doubts, which I have to express. They concern the fact that given certain specific means of obtaining desired results, I could certainly imagine situations where drugs are put off to someone for the purposes of bringing criminal charges for drugs consumption, and subsequently getting rid of those individuals as the fact of drug use would mean a criminal conviction, and it would be very easy then to get rid of such people.
But this does not mean that I am against this measure. Let’s think about how to find a balanced solution, particularly taking into account what the Justice Minister said: we have already envisaged in the draft bill alternative measures of punishment for a variety of offences; it will now pass through the Government, and most likely be supported. We can make even more far-reaching steps.
Incidentally, I think it would be entirely reasonable to introduce treatment as a so-called sanction or primary punishment. Not as an alternative measure of punishment – with the choice of prison or treatment – but as the main form of punishment. This would leave no doubts, and then it would not just be a lever of pressure.
I would like the Government and the Presidential Executive Office to jointly review this option and, within two months, to report to me with suggestions on whether it is feasible to introduce these types of liability, taking into account the current state of society.
Another topic was mentioned here concerning the practice existing abroad of employment contracts where an employer requires abstinence from drugs, or where abstinence from drug use is a pre-requisite for the contract. Indeed, in this case, I do not see any problems as far as our legislation is concerned. I think there are many cases where we could consider allowing employers to make this demand during the signing of the employment contract. We could consider perhaps amending Labour Code as well. We are not talking about compulsory testing or anything that shakes the foundation of, say, current legislation on healthcare; rather, we are simply talking about the requirements outlined in an employment contract, which can include this demand as well, especially when sources of increased hazard are involved, as well as other situations. Personally, I believe this is absolutely normal with regard to private businesses. Ultimately, it is up to the employer to decide how to formulate the terms and conditions of an employment contract.
We should think about how to integrate this into current legislation.
I suppose that’s it. Based on the outcomes of this meeting, I will approve a list of instructions that include all of the initial suggestions and, of course, the things I just outlined.
Thank you all very much.