March 1, 2012
Russian health advocates are alarmed over the "draconian silencing" of online information about harm-reduction approaches to injection drug use. Russia has one of the world's largest populations of IDUs.
On Feb. 3, the Federal Drug Control Service of the Moscow Department -- citing the need to prevent the "placement of materials that propagandize the use of drugs, information about distribution and purchasing of drugs and inciting the use of drugs" -- ordered the shutdown of a website run by the Andrey Rylkov Foundation (ARF).
But ARF President Anya Sarang said the media crackdown is "over methadone, plain and simple." The foundation has been a vocal critic of the government ban on methadone, which global health experts consider an essential tool in preventing HIV transmission and treating opioid addiction. Its website often linked to research demonstrating methadone's public health benefits.
"We are very concerned about the closure of the website, which is one of very few Russian-language websites with accurate information about drug treatment, particularly drug treatment using methadone," said Diederik Lohman of Human Rights Watch. The senior researcher said the Russian government routinely misinforms the public about methadone, claiming it to be dangerous and ineffective.
The result has been a growing HIV/AIDS epidemic, said Lohman. Thousands of disease-related deaths during recent years could have been prevented if the government supported proper IDU treatment and prevention programs, he said.
Russia has roughly 980,000 HIV/AIDS cases, a number that may reach 1.65 million by 2015 if current trends continue. In some regions up to 80 percent of transmissions result from contaminated needles, said Eka Iakobishvili, a human rights analyst at London-based Harm Reduction International.