Russia: Harm Reduction Web-site Blocked by the Government

At the beginning of February Russian Government blocked a web-site rylkov-fond.ru which belongs to the Moscow nonprofit organization Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Promotion of Health Care and Social Justice. The site was filtered on the request of the Federal Drug Control Service (FDCS). The official reason of this action as stated in the FDCS order was “placement of materials which promote (advertise) the drug use, information on distribution, purchase of drugs and stimulate their consumption” Human Rights Watch reported.

Image by Za3tOoOr! CC BY-NC-ND

This was the first case when Russian Government enforced the new domain seizure rules which allow the law enforcement agencies to request domain seizure in the “.ru” and “.рф” domain zone without a court order.

Andrey Rulkov Foundation promotes humanistic attitude towards people living with the drug addiction and urges for the legalization the Opiate Replacement Therapy (ORT) in Russia. The organization provides direct support the drug users, runs needles exchange programs, raises awareness of drug users on health care issues and places them in various medical establishments and rehabilitation centers.  The Foundation also played a leading role in the advocacy campaign against detention of Russian harm reduction activist Irina Teplinskaya.

After the blocking of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation web-site many Russian language web-resources and blogs focused on health care and human right republished the open letter of the President of the Foundation Anna Sarang where she explains her view on why the web-site was closed. 

Anna wrote that since the end of last year the organization has attracted the attention of various law enforcement agencies, such as police and prosecution.  On the February 3rd the web-site was blocked.

According to Anna’s experience, today in Russia the rights of the drug users are totally ignored. Often medical establishments refuse to provide services to a dying person just because he or she is a drug addict. Even when drug addicts are placed in a hospital most of the time they do not finish a treatment as they cannot endure an abstinent syndrome. This is especially true for TB patients. Substitution therapy would have helped to resolve this issue.

Anna believes that the substitution therapy is a simple and cheap instrument to help people living with a drug addiction. It is used all over the world and is recommended by the World Health Organization. It is used in most of the countries of the former Soviet Union but is fully prohibited in Russia.

In the open letter Anna tried to find the reasons why Russian authorities are so resistant to ORT programs. One of the reasons, according to her, could be the historical approach of treatment of the drug addiction. The patients were treated in labor camps and were given harmful drugs for which the Russian psychiatrists were excluded from international associations. But many of these drugs are still a part of stands of treatment of the drug addiction in Russia. Another reasons noted by Anna is that Methadone is very cheap and would not let corrupted health care officials to made a profit on tender procedures.

Two years ago Anrey Rylkov Foundation drafted the alternative report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in provision of health rights of drug addicted citizens. The Committee highly recommended the Russian Government to introduce the ORT programs for prevention of spread of HIV infection and decriminalization of drug addicts but nothing has changed. 

Anna stated that the official Russian statistics on HIV, TB and drug addiction contradicts the UN data and is biased and incorrect. The Foundation’s web-site contained interview and personal stories of people living with the drug addiction and with other health problems. It also contained the scientific papers and WHO recommendations on treatment of the drug addiction as well as the recommendation on protection of human rights. According to Anna, the site had ‘everything but promotion (advertisement) of the drug use, information on distribution, purchase of drugs and stimulating their consumption'.

Anna believes that blocking of her web-site is the begging of a campaign against nonprofit organizations which do not support the government.

Russian and Ukrainian bloggers reacted actively on blocking of Andrey Rylkov Foundation web-site. Blogger Maria Golovanevskaya posted:

Сайт, которому вменяют “пропаганду” был одним из лучших русскоязычных интернет-ресурсов по вопросам лечения и профилактики ВИЧ, туберкулеза и гепатита C.  Здесь были собраны научные статьи, комментарии специалистов, рекомендации Всемирной Организации Здравоохранения, в том числе и по вопросам лечения наркозависимости. Проблема заключается в том, что вместо поркотерапии, кодирования, инъекций галоперидола и аминазина, для лечения наркозависимости ВОЗ рекомендует применение заместительной терапии метадоном и бупренорфином–медицинскими препаратами, составляющими основу наркологической помощи страдающим опиойдной наркоманией в большинстве стран мира.  Кроме России.  У нее свой путь, на котором не то, что применение—обсуждение заместительной терапии жестко табуировано и приравнено к пропаганде наркотических средств. 

И вот, Аню ждет повестка в прокуратуру. Сайт заблокирован.  ФСКН продолжает беречь здоровье нации.  

The web-site which was accused in ‘promotion’ was one of the best Russian language internet resources in treatment and prevention of HIV, TB and Hepatitis C. It contained a collection of scientific papers, comments of experts, World Health Organization recommendations on issues of the drug addiction treatment. The problem is that instead of repressions, coding, injections of haloperidol and aminasin, for treatment of the drug addiction WHO recommends substitution medicines Methadone and Buprinorphine – the medical substances which are a basis of opiate addiction treatment in most of the countries in the world. Besides Russia. It has its own way, where not only use, even a discussion of the substitution therapy is a strong taboo and equals to  promotion of drugs.

So, Anna is invited to the prosecution office. The web-site is blocked.  FDCS continues to care about the health of the nation.

Ukrainian harm reduction activist and a blogger Pavel Kutsev has a similar opinion. He posted:

оказывается, говорить ПРАВДУ об истинном положении россиян, страдающих наркотической зависимостью – признанной во всем  мире (цивилизованной его частью) тяжелейшим хроническим заболеванием, в России также преступно, как и обладать самим статусом  хроника «потребитель наркотиков», то есть преступно даже пытаться хоть как-то выживать с этой самой зависимостью! И это не где-нить в долбоёпстане, а в СОВРЕМЕННОЙ России!!!.

Apparently, to tell a TRUTH about the real state of affairs of Russian who suffer from the drug addiction which is consider a serious chronic disease in the civilized part of the world is the same crime as to have a status of chronic ‘drug addict’, so it is a crime even to try to survive with the addiction. And this is not in the middle of nowhere; this is in modern Russia!!!…  

Blogger Kostyad gives his own reasons for such a strong resistance of the government to ORT programs. He posted:

Вопрос в популизме. Бороться с наркоманией – очень выгодно. Один человек уже сделал себе карьеру на борьбе с наркоманами. Государство не хочет оставлять поляну одному Ройзману – они тоже борются с за бонусы.

Поэтому и закрывают сайт организации, которая пишет, что нынешняя наркополитика ничего хорошего для страны не принесла, не приносит и не принесет. Реабилитации государственной – кот наплакал, тюремных реабилитационных программ – нет совсем, обучения по вопросам реабилитации – нет совсем, заместительной терапии нет.

This is an issue of populism. To fight with the drug addiction is a good business. One person has already built its carrier on fighting with drugs. The government does not want to give everything just to Roizman (Russian MP, active fighter with drug addiction] - it also wants to benefit from this.

That is why they are blocking the site of the organization which writes that the current drug policy has not brought anything good to the country and will not bring anything in future. There is not enough of government rehab programs, there is not rehab programs for people in prisons, there is no rehab education, no substitution therapy. ..

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