Andrey Rylkov Foundation
for Health and Social Justice

City Without Drugs: death from “rehabilitation”

Russian drug policy news past week was dominated by the police investigation at a female “rehabilitation center” owned by the notorious foundation City Without Drugs. The investigation resulted from the death of one of its patients.

City Without Drugs was created over 10 years ago in Yekaterinburg, one of Russia’s largest cities, by ex-convicts and ex-drug users eager to fight drug trafficking in their city and to “rehabilitate” people with drug dependency. The initiative received support not only from the city authorities, but also from its powerful criminal bosses. The foundation’s popularity has quickly grown (in no small part due to the lack of any meaningful police activity to address drug use in the city).

Although no figures are widely available to assess the effectiveness of City Without Drugs, the Russian public generally believes that its activities are beneficial and that it is saving lives. Accordingly, the foundation has enjoyed tremendous support from a broad range of public figures: from church leaders to parliamentarians, from leading journalists to the local ombudswomen. At the same time, City Without Drugs has been accused of using non-scientific methods in its “rehabilitation” programs, of violating the privacy of its clients, and even of the use of force or torture against them. It is widely believed that its “rehab” patients are brought in by force on their parents’ request. The foundation’s “treatment” activities have not been certified by the Ministry of Health. None of these accusations have resulted in sanctions against the foundation – perhaps unsurprisingly, given the popularity of its charismatic leader, Yevgeny Roizman. Moreover, the foundation’s critics are known to have been incarcerated – ARF has initiated an international campaign to free Evgeny Konyshev who was put in prison for drug trafficking after he complained against City Without Drugs.

Roizman is a powerful personality – a church historian, philanthropist and art connoisseur. He is also an experienced politician who has served a term in Russia’s parliament and is known as a relentless critic of the government’s inactivity on the drug-fighting front. Roizman is firmly against harm reduction and substitution therapy. He believes that HIV can be cured once an HIV positive person stops using heroin.  In 2011, he announced that his foundation would grow into a Russia-wide organization, Country Without Drugs.

It seemed that Roizman’s position was unshakeable until June 2012, when Tatiana Kazantseva (29), a patient at his “rehabilitation center”, died of complications from the use of Krokodil (desomorphine), hepatitis C and pneumonia. As Roizman himself observed: “[She] tried kicking drugs several times. But how? The narcologists are helpless. There are no government-run rehab centers. Nobody was able to take her… So they brought her to us.”

So what did they do to Tatiana at the City Without Drugs once she was brought in? According to another patient’s testimony, she was “kicked in the head and dragged by her hair several meters to a bed with no mattress. They put her on the bedframe and placed a piss pot underneath. The whole night she moaned. In the morning, she became worse. She was green and blue and couldn’t move by herself. They took her to the hospital where she died after a few days.”

Tatiana’s death resulted in a police investigation. Because of the interference, City Without Drugs decided to stop its “rehab” programs and dismiss the patients without any follow-up activities. Police department for Sverdlovsk oblast confirmed that the investigation was taking place because several former “rehab center” clients had complained about daily torture and humiliation at City Without Drugs. Two criminal cases have been opened against the female and male “rehab” centers because of alleged beatings and restriction of freedom.

It is quite likely that the foundation will survive this crisis, as it has done before. According to Roizman, police have found nothing to incriminate him in Tatiana Kazantseva’s death, and so the female “rehab center” has reopened again – the patients are returning. The lawyer at City Against Drugs claims that there is no ground for prosecution, and that all the testimony against the foundation was obtained under police pressure.

But more broadly, City Without Drugs likely will continue to exist because Russia’s corrupt and ineffective drug treatment system cannot offer a viable alternative. Given the lack of popularity of the government-run drug treatment system, it is not surprising that Roizman has many sympathizers and that more drug enforcers and politicians are turning to the tried and tested Soviet formula of coercive drug treatment. Journalist Alexander Delphinov has this to say about Roizman’s “rehabilitation” centers and about Tatiana Kazantseva’s death:

“[they] are a self-made equivalent of the old Soviet labour “treatment-labour centers” (LTPs) where they used to send alcoholics and drunks… [T]hat system was created not for treatment or behaviour correction, but for temporary isolation of the “asocial elements”. Over 20 years has passed since the breakdown of the USSR, but the state still has not created anything to replace the destroyed LTP system… Over 100,000 people are incarcerated because of the “drug article” 228, about 100,000 people (!) die each year because of the consequences of illegal drug use, hundreds of thousands or millions continue their risky practices in spite of the police machine… These hundreds of thousands are not figures, they are people. And they are dying. And one of the people who died was Tania from Yekaterinburg. If our drug policy was different, she would not have ended up at the Roizman’s center – she would have been sent to a normal hospital, to a normal rehab center. This did not happen. We cherish her memory.”

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