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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Drug Abuse Growing, Officials Warn

Marijuana is being grown on about 1 million hectares of Russia but drug enforcement officials managed to destroy only a tiny one-thousandth of those crops in the first half of the year, officials said Tuesday, warning that the country's drug problem would grow.

Officials on the Interior Ministry's drug enforcement task force said a dubious loophole in legislation meant that even though they could find marijuana fields, they were banned from laying a finger on them.

"Local authorities who are in charge of the land must destroy the crops, and they often don't care," Sergei Pestretsov, a top task force official, said at a news conference.

Pestretsov and other officials said the law, poor police response, and other factors were to blame for the poor results seen so far this year in an attempt to crack down on drugs.

The number of registered drug addicts grew 5.5 percent in the first six months of the year compared to the same period in 2001, said Mikhail Melekhov, the task force's deputy head. As of July 1, about half a million drug users were registered in the country, but the actual number may be five to eight times higher, he said.

He said two-thirds of drug users are unemployed and turn to illegal means, most commonly theft, to find the money to buy drugs.

About 104,000 criminal offenses related to drugs were registered in the first half of 2002, an increase of 19 percent compared with the same period last year. Some 52,000 people were charged for drug-related crimes in the first six months of 2002.

Melekhov blamed criminal gangs from the former republics of the Soviet Union for the drug problem, saying the business is controlled by 4,000 non-Russian criminal gangs that only hire Russians for simple jobs like courier services.

"The fact that they are composed of ethnic groups makes penetration by our agents a very problematic task," he said.

According to police statistics, Tajiks accounted for 34 percent of the 1,300 non-Russian traffickers from 24 countries arrested this year. Azeris accounted for 18 percent, and Ukrainians 16 percent.

Wealthy and aggressive drug traffickers have little problem dealing with Russia's 7,000 drug enforcement officers, who are underpaid and lacking in basic equipment, officials said.

"My forecast is unfavorable. The sale of drugs and their use will continue to grow, and the market share of hard drugs like heroin and amphetamines will increase," Melekhov said.

The Interior Ministry predicted local producers will increase output and Russia will be hit with an influx of drugs from Afghanistan as traffickers restore routes disrupted during the U.S.-led counter-terrorism campaign there.