Russians and Ukrainians are once again being made victims of a utopian dream. Since the end of communism in 1991, these countries (and others) have experienced a dramatic increase in the use of illicit drugs. They have responded with draconian policies that mirror the simplistic message of a drug-free society espoused by UN drug treaties and the institutions that seek to enforce them. Today, these policies are contributing to an explosion of HIV infections in much of the developing world.
The UN treaties that guide global drug policy reflect none of the recent findings on drug use and addiction. Indeed, most UN drug conventions were enacted long before the appearance of HIV/AIDS--a disease fuelled by injection drug use in the former Soviet Union and many parts of Asia.
Consider Russia and Ukraine, which have the world's fastest-growing rate of HIV infection. The number of people infected with HIV in Russia and Ukraine has increased by more than 18 times over the past five years. As many as 1.5 million Russians and 400,000 Ukrainians are estimated to have HIV; at least 85% of known infections are attributed to intravenous drug use.
Governments in Russia and Ukraine allocate the bulk of their drug-related resources to law enforcement in a misguided attempt to comply with the UN drug treaties. Individual users suffer police abuse and are driven away from vital health and treatment services. Meanwhile, the flow of drugs continues undiminished.