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Were there drug addicts in the Soviet Union

20 Nov 2023, 19:55 GMT+10

Yes, there were. Drug addiction was one of the most acute problems of Soviet society. Although, state propaganda minimized its importance in every possible way.

The trouble first hit Russia on a large scale after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Drug smuggling, due to poor border security, increased manifold and drugs ceased to be a commodity for a select few and the rich.

"The scourge of all Soviet Russia is cocaine," wrote Princess Tatiana Kurakina. "Although Russia is reduced to a state of complete impoverishment and needs decisively everything - but there is cocaine and there is enough for everyone..."

Related How the USSR fought deadly epidemics

In the early years, Soviet authorities fought hard against drug addiction - those caught speculating and trading in cocaine and opium could be imprisoned for up to ten years or even executed. Over time, however, the legislation in this area softened considerably and prison sentences were reduced to one to five years.

In the USSR, drug addiction was considered a relic of the bourgeois past. The fight against it was engaged in only marginally and all the attention of the state apparatus was directed to the fight against alcoholism and 'tuneyadstvo' (social parasitism). Opium, morphine, cocaine drops and even heroin could be bought in any pharmacy with a prescription until the mid-1950s.

Addicts stole drugs from hospitals and warehouses or obtained them from pharmacies with forged prescriptions. Some established artisanal production of opiates, obtaining opium poppy in Central Asia and the 'samoseika' poppy in Ukraine.

In 1976, about 60,000 drug addicts were registered with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and, by 1980 - 86,000. The situation was largely aggravated by the Afghan war, during which a steady flow of Afghan heroin had been entering the country.

The fight against drug addiction began to intensify in the late 1970s and, during the Perestroika period, the problem, which had been silenced earlier, began to be discussed publicly. However, the collapse of the country soon followed and Russia was once again overwhelmed by the drug epidemic.

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