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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Young Drug Addicts Face Forced Therapy

ST. PETERSBURG -- Proposed legislation to force young drug addicts into treatment is stirring up an outcry from doctors, who call the bill the wrong solution to a growing problem.

The bill, which the State Duma is expected to start debating soon, would enable schools to send children to treatment centers without their parents' consent. The final decision in each case would be left up to a judge.

Duma Deputy Valentina Ivanova, a supporter of the bill, said urgent steps needed to be taken to separate children who use drugs from those who do not.

"On average, one drug user gets 12 to 15 people to try drugs within a year," Ivanova told reporters in St. Petersburg late last week.

She said all schoolchildren and older students should be required to undergo tests to make sure they are drug-free.

There are no figures for the number of young drug addicts. In total, 1.8 million people are officially registered as drug users by the Federal Drug Control Service, and another 6 million people are believed to have tried drugs at least once. About 75,000 people die every year from overdoses or illnesses related to drug use, according to the drug control service.

Doctors say they cannot cope with treatment as it is. Only 2,000 treatment centers are open nationwide, or an average of one center for every 900 registered users. What is really needed, doctors say, is not a harsher law but a coherent national policy for fighting drugs.

Forcing children into treatment will never work because personal motivation plays an important role in overcoming addiction, said Yevgeny Krupitsky, chief narcotics doctor for the Leningrad region. "The use of punitive therapy back in the Soviet Union proved inefficient a long time ago," he said. "That is why this shameful practice was declared illegal in 1990."

But Sergei Belogurov, a narcotics doctor with the Center of Innovative Technologies, said a combination of education and intimidation could work wonders.

"If they are offered the choice of serving time in prison or entering therapy, I am sure they would be more willing to go to a treatment center," Belogurov said.

Such talk makes many doctors feel uncomfortable.

"Treating a sick man like a criminal and placing him behind bars -- let us be honest, forced treatment is equal to prison -- is deeply wrong and cannot be permitted," said Yury Polyakov, head of the psycho-neurological department of the Institute of the Human Brain.

"We live in a country that claims to be a developing democracy, and we need to make sure that we solve our problems with tools and programs that don't contradict democratic principles," he said. "Punishment without a crime is unacceptable."

More important, said Maria Matskevich, senior researcher with the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the proposed legislation does not make a clear distinction between people who use drugs once or twice and those who are addicted.

"Needless to say, it would be damaging to stick everyone in the same boat," she said.