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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

150 Young People March Against Drugs

MTVanya Markov riding on a friend's shoulders during an anti-drug demonstration on the Arbat on Monday afternoon.
Vanya Markov's statistics might be overblown, but they were certainly in the spirit of "March in the Name of Life," an anti-drug rally held Monday on central Moscow's Arbat.

"Every day 1 million people die because of drugs," said Markov, 14. "They use them because they don't respect themselves."

The march of about 150 young people waving banners and carrying colorful balloons down the Arbat was one of several rallies held across the country to commemorate the United Nations' International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

Across town, drug-control officials and experts met for an international conference on the issue. Federal Drug Control Service head Viktor Cherkesov told attendees that while the number of drug addicts in Russia had increased almost tenfold over the past decade, the growth had leveled out due to record drug seizures by his agency.

Cherkesov, repeating statements he made in December, said the seizures had caused a scarcity of drugs, prompting rising prices and "a heroin hunger" in several regions, Interfax reported.

About 6 million Russians regularly use illegal drugs, and more than 1 million others, primarily young people, have tried them at least once, according to national health statistics. "That makes 4 percent of the country's population," Cherkesov said, adding that one-third of drug users were under 24.

At least one organizer of the Arbat march was not convinced drugs were the most pressing problem for youth. "I think tobacco is the most dangerous drug," said Anya Ulyanova, who works for the charity Street Children, which helped organize the march.

A group of young people watched the march with piqued interest near a graffiti-covered wall commemorating rock icon Viktor Tsoi. "They're for a healthy lifestyle, and we drink and smoke like crazy," said a 14-year-old girl who declined to give her name.

Nadya, 15, said drugs were not much of an issue among her friends. "I know a few people who smoke crap," she said. "But alcoholism is a much bigger problem."