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Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
Alarming rise in Russia drug abuse
Men drinking on bench in front of sign warning of fine for drinking in public
Drug abuse is linked to wider social problems in Russia

The Russian Interior Ministry has acknowledged that drug abuse is increasing at an alarming rate across the country.

There are more than 300,000 registered drug users in Russia, but experts believe the real figure to be between five and eight times greater than this.

Officials warn that more drugs could flood in from Afghanistan in the autumn.

Street child on Moscow
Young people's free time is less organised than in Soviet times
The illegal drugs trade is one of the biggest problems facing Russia's law enforcement agencies.

At the bottom of the scale are the drug addicts, who often turn to petty crime to fuel their habit.

At the top are criminal gangs and extremist organisations which make huge sums of money out of the narcotics business.

The head of the Interior Ministry's drugs-trafficking department, Mikhail Melekhov, told a press conference in Moscow that the rise in drug abuse had been linked to wider social problems in the post-Soviet era.

Young people's free time is much less organised than it was in Soviet times, and the lifting of censorship has produced a culture among the young of "anything goes".

Supply increasing

Mr Melekhov accepted, too, that even though police have seized a greater haul of narcotics in the first half of this year than in the same period in 2001 - 16 tonnes compared to 14 - this is not an indication of better policing.

Rather, it illustrates that the quantity of drugs being brought into the country is rising steadily.

Most drugs in Russia still come up from Afghanistan, through Central Asia. The crop currently growing in Afghanistan is expected to reach Russia's streets in the autumn.

But narcotics are also finding their way across Russia's long borders with China and Poland, and even from as far away as Latin America.

The drugs trade

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06 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
25 Jul 02 | South Asia
21 Feb 02 | South Asia
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