The Russian government has a notoriously punitive attitude towards drugs. Substitution treatments are banned and the only option for recovering addicts is to go cold turkey. But three drug users who have struggled for years with their addiction and have become life-threateningly ill as a result, claim that this policy is an abuse of their human rights, and are taking the Russian state to court.
Though opioid substitution therapy (OST) – such as methadone or buprenorphine which are commonly used to treat heroin addiction in the UK – is banned in Russia, these replacement therapies are globally recognised as one of the most effective treatments of opioid addiction. Russian activists Alexey Kurmanayevskiy, Irina Abdyusheva Teplinskaya and Ivan Anoshkin have exhausted all available treatments in Russia without success, and over the years of battling with their addictions, have contracted HIV (the UN estimates that half of Russia’s new HIV cases last year were injecting drug users). They believe that being denied this treatment violates international human rights law (pdf) – in particular, the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment (article 3) and discrimination (article 14).
In an attempt to gain access to what they see as vital and potentially life-saving healthcare, Kurmanayevskiy, Teplinskaya and Anoshkin have attempted to use Russia’s domestic legal system without success. After four years of litigation and evidence collection, they have submitted their applications to the European court of human rights in Strasbourg, seeking a judgment against the legal prohibition of OST in Russia.
Their lawyer Mikhail Golichenko says: “It’s not only about oppression, it’s also about the disconnect between the state’s imposed values, which very often are far from reality. The fight of human rights is an important treatment for people who use drugs in itself, as many people start using drugs because they don’t feel part of this society, especially in countries like Russia.”
If the applicants are successful, it will be the first legally-binding decision from the European court of human rights that recognises drug users as vulnerable people who are entitled to protection.
Here they share their reasons for pursuing the cases:
Alexey Kurmanayevskiy, 34
Kurmanayevskiy is a social worker and activist. He first used drugs as a teenager, and over the last 20 years he has made 19 unsuccessful drug treatment attempts in Russia. He is living with HIV and hepatitis C.
I started thinking about substitution therapy in the framework of human rights because it is about the basic right to life [and] access to healthcare in a safe environment. When I went to the court to request access to OST – and when I got all my requests rejected – I realised an attempt to change the rules in Russia is not only about the access, it’s about Russia’s general approach to dealing with illicit drugs, as well as HIV prevention.
I saw how human rights are diminished because of the desire to achieve the so-called drug-free world, and the ideology of drug control which obviously would never be achieved.
Although my decision to go public about this application and my use of drugs was a risk – I was fired from my job and there were problems with my relatives – I wanted to fulfil some educational function. Many people in Russian society do not know anything about drug dependence, but the lack of social protection in Russia is the main reason why many turn to drug use, to get some relief.
I believe another reason is the repressive drug policy that makes people who experiment with drug use permanently stuck. When the person is arrested or hooked up by the state in other ways, they are doomed to remain in this sphere because there is no mechanism to help. There is only a mechanism to oppress. And that’s the main reason why there’s an ever-growing number of drug users.
Irina Abdyusheva Teplinskaya, 50
Teplinskaya is an activist. She has used drugs for more than 30 years, and tried every drug treatment option made available in Russia. She is currently undergoing religious rehabilitation and has been diagnosed with HIV and hepatitis C.
I have spent 16 years in prison – all for drug offences – and have had about 20 attempts of quitting drugs. I was so torn apart and my health was so bad that I needed some significant support, and as my life proved, neither drug treatment nor imprisonment helped me quit. That’s why I entered my case to Strasbourg.
Had substitution therapy been in place in Russia, I wouldn’t have needed to go through the 30 years of horror and pain and suffering attached to prisons and to my multiple chronic health conditions. The substitution treatment can be seen as part of rehabilitation process – it helps a person to get stabilised, to gain back their role in society, to get jobs, to get ties to his or her family, and getting back those values around which society is revolving.
I spent two years on substitution therapy in Ukraine five years ago and it helped me to get stable enough to start reflecting on my life. I’m now in Christian rehabilitation, where I brought myself to God, but you can always start using drugs again – however strong you are.
Ivan Anoshkin, 35
Anoshkin is a social worker and activist. He first used drugs as a teenager and contracted HIV and hepatitis C before his 18th birthday. He has enrolled in public and private drug treatment programmes without success, and was subject to degrading drug treatment conditions.
I was afraid of going public with the case. The only thing I saw from society at that time was multiple incarcerations, prisons, drug treatment clinics – that this world doesn’t treat me as a human being.
I guess because I was on the fringe between life and death, and I wanted to die with dignity, it was important to fight for some help. Now I work as an outreach worker, providing social support for people who use drugs. I see many people die, and many people are in the same condition as I was at that time. I see that these people need OST; they need help.
I hope that we will win this case and we’ll bring essential substitution services to Russia. I want to save lives, and OST and humane treatments for people who use drugs should become part of reality in Russia.
Categories: Russia and OST | Tags: access to treatment, Anoshkin, ECHR, Golichenko, Kurmanaevsky, OST, Teplinskaya | No comments »