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Russia now 'top heroin consumer'

A Russian heroin addict handcuffed to his bunk while battling withdrawal symptoms

Russia says it has become the world's biggest consumer of heroin.

The head of Russia's anti-narcotics service, Victor Ivanov, said that seizures of Afghan heroin were up 70%.

Speaking ahead of a meeting in Vienna of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, he called on the UN to do more to fight the problem.

Mr Ivanov, a former KGB officer and senior Kremlin official, said the flood of the drug from Afghanistan posed a threat to Russia's national security.

He painted a grim picture, says the BBC's James Rodgers in Moscow. He said the drug was partly to blame for rising crime and a fall in Russia's population.

Harvesting Afghan opium, file picture
Afghanistan is thought to be the source of 93% of the world's heroin

"In recent years Russia has not just become massively hooked on Afghan opiates, it has also become the world's absolute leader in the opiate trade and the number one heroin consumer," he said in a report made available to reporters.

"Drug trafficking has become a key negative factor for demography and a blow to our nation's gene pool... [and] a challenge to Russia's civilisation."

The Russian health ministry says Russia has up to 2.5 million drug addicts out of a population of some 140 million, most of them aged between 18 and 39.

Mr Ivanov did not give details about which country Russia was thought to have displaced as the main heroin consumer.

The CND's World Drugs Report for 2008 reported that China was estimated to have about 2.3 million users of opiates, though how many of those used heroin was unclear.

War factor

Mr Ivanov said that in the first two months of this year, Russia had seized 400kg (880lb) of heroin - a 70% increase on the same period last year.

He said it was time for the international community to take action against Afghan narcotics by spraying poppies and offering farmers incentives to grow other crops.

Afghanistan is estimated to produce 93% of the world's heroin.

While not directly blaming the US-led coalition in Afghanistan for the worsening problem, Mr Ivanov said that Afghan farmers had used the tense military and political situation to plant opium poppies.

He also said patrolling the 7,000-km (4,375-mile) border with Kazakhstan, through which drugs arrive, was an impossible job.

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