Marina Akhmedova amongst the crocodile addicts of Yekaterinburg
August 7, 2012 5:49 AM   Subscribe

Marina Akhmedova amongst the crocodile addicts of Yekaterinburg - published and censored in Russia, translated and mirrored on opendemocracy. "They check intently who is getting how much, and count out the eyedrops. If I ran right now into the middle of the kitchen and bellowed at the top of my voice, they would not turn round. Their world extends only a few metres and has the cooker and its hood at its centre. It is not a world within the world: it is their entire world, a world as narrow as a coffin, but all-encompassing for those who live in it, a world which follows its own laws. In it there are neither saints nor sinners, no thieves or benefactors, only the harsh laws of survival. There is no truth, no certainty about anything, not even that the sun will rise tomorrow. It is a world which arises when people are dicing with death. A supreme, inexorable law instantly appears, an axis around which their universe revolves: it is the right of those as yet still human to play a game they have chosen for themselves."
posted by jcrcarter (25 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I read this a couple of days ago. I thought it was interesting, but left me with some unanswered questions, like how would these people go about getting clean in Russia? As in, what options are available for addicts to get treated there? What is the general attitude towards addicts, and what is the public policy like? All of these things are probably obvious if you live in Russia, but for me it was a gaping hole of missing context. There's certain things I can infer, for example it would seem like Russia is engaged in it's own War on (some) Drugs, but ultimately I'm left guessing.
posted by Ritchie at 5:59 AM on August 7, 2012

Russian attitudes to getting clean are basic but occasionally effective; it's usually a matter of paying someone to abduct the subject and lock them in a room for as long as one can afford. There's a heavy amount of breaking/remaking/hazing boot camp vibe a lot of the time, and lots of violence.

Or, if you've had a life of luxury, a Western rehab centre.
posted by jaduncan at 6:13 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

There was an article in Vice on crocodil a year or so ago that discussed rehab options, which are limited. Evangelical groups are a major player in the field, as state funds are not generally available for addiction treatment.
posted by charmcityblues at 6:13 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

General attitudes are that drug users deserve whatever they get. Again, it isn't sophisticated.
posted by jaduncan at 6:14 AM on August 7, 2012

I heard about this a few years back, when it was big in Siberia. One thing that this article fails to convey is the magnitude of the physical damage Krokodil users experience. The drug has acid in it that eats away at your flesh. Many users literally become skinless on their arms, legs, or wherever they inject the drugs regularly. (Do a google search if you're curious, but be warned - it's pretty nausea-inducing).
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:49 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

In general, are Russians as stoic and fatalistic as culture draws them? 'Cause if they are, that certainly can't help.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:58 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Treatment for addiction (and other mental health issues) in Russia is a whole hell of a lot more punitive than it is rehabilitory. Unless, like jaduncan says, you're rich, in which case you can buy yourself whatever sort of treatment you'd like.
posted by griphus at 7:00 AM on August 7, 2012

Here's a link to the Vice article (warning: some pretty disturbing pictures).

Some excerpts on rehab in Siberia:
We met a guy called Sasha, whose organisation, Pererozhdenie Rossii (“Regeneration of Russia”), is one of the only rehab organisations that isn’t devoutly religious, although I spotted iconography in their centres. A lot of the churches are Protestant, and the people who run the rehab facilities are often pastors. Some in the Russian Orthodox Church consider these Christian clinics “servants of the Antichrist” because they work actively with heroin users...

Sasha took us to a few of his clinics, including one where people had been clean long enough to talk openly and honestly about their pasts. In Russia, most rehab clinics are independent of the government and don’t provide methadone or other opiates to addicts suffering from withdrawal. It seemed crazy, but they said the cold-turkey method is the best way to get off heroin.
posted by charmcityblues at 7:19 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

It seemed crazy, but they said the cold-turkey method is the best way to get off heroin.

Worked for John Coltrane. YMMV.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:24 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Miles Davis too. He went home to his parents' house and kicked heroin.
posted by thelonius at 7:27 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

In general, are Russians as stoic and fatalistic as culture draws them? 'Cause if they are, that certainly can't help.

I hate to generalized a whole population, but the Russians I have met, especially those from smaller, Eastern Russian towns, are absolutely as fatalistic, if not moreso, than they have been depicted. My friend once referred to it as "a peasant mentality". Life is a struggle, you work hard and then you die, and drinking, drugs and sex are the only escape.

But here's the thing: life really is hard. I'm talking non-European (St. P), non-cosmopolitan (Moscow) Russia. There are limited opportunities for jobs and education. Resources are scare, but in an odd way. I think Russians are happy, but it's a different kind of happiness. Not in the western idea that 'my life is getting better and I can improve', but a resigned, hopeless happiness, if that makes sense.
posted by peacrow at 7:28 AM on August 7, 2012 [15 favorites]

General attitudes are that drug users deserve whatever they get

To be fair, that's the attitude among many in the West as well...
posted by Harald74 at 7:31 AM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have a family member who is an addict (meth) and this was hard to read, but I'm glad it was posted. Crocodile sounds worse, but really, all addictions are just slow-motion suicides. The horror of loving someone who's an addict is that after a while, you find yourself wishing the person would just be dead already rather than drawing it out, but you can't help hoping they get better at the same time, however thin the odds.
posted by emjaybee at 7:43 AM on August 7, 2012

I think Russians are happy, but it's a different kind of happiness.

Is that why the suicide rate is one of the highest in the world? (Not to worry, though, top men are working on it.)
posted by Behemoth at 8:06 AM on August 7, 2012

Benny Andajetz: "In general, are Russians as stoic and fatalistic as culture draws them? 'Cause if they are, that certainly can't help."
If I were to choose three attributes that generally describe the ones I work with (handful of Russians, an Uzbek, a Kazakh, a Kyrgyz and a Belarusian) it would be pragmatism, indifference to (formal) authorities and resourcefulness. There's a certain frontier je-ne-sais-quoi about them.

Then again, biased data point: they're all expats working in IT. No idea how far removed they are from your average Uralian.
posted by brokkr at 8:07 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Man, I remember those pictures from the first time this stuff made the rounds on MetaFilter. They stick with you. You wonder if they can possibly be real. You wonder how the photographer could possibly have took them without just running out of the room in horror. They were affecting, and not in a nice way.

That shit is pretty hopeless. I'm afraid of it, frankly. A lot of times with illegal drugs you just sort of think "OK, OK, but I know there's another side to it." I mean, even morphine and cocaine have legitimate medical uses. Desomorphine (crocodile) might too if it was cleaner. It sounds like the problem here is that the only way to get it is to extract codeine from medicine and then react it with iodine and red phosphorous presumably obtained from matches and disinfectant to cook it into desomorphine. It's the contaminants and the side-products that you get from such crude chemistry that do most of the real damage, I guess.

This looks like something that could be solved if you could get these people into some kind of humane rehab situation. You'd want to start out by first just giving them clean morphine for a while, and treating whatever was wrong with their bodies (sounds like most of these people have HIV, unsurprisingly -- so you'd want to get them proper care for that as well) to help them get as strong and healthy as possible. Then you'd start in with the therapy -- maybe a DBT-based approach, certainly something with Carl Rogers-esque humanist foundations. Then you'd start titrating down their dosage until it was at a level where they could function without crazy withdrawal, keeping them in therapy and under observation all the while to make sure they don't relapse. Maybe try to find them a job and a house somewhere that isn't too close to where their using friends are.

On a systemic level you'd have to attack the supply. It sounds like Russia has already banned the sale of codeine in over-the-counter medication, but nobody has done anything about the fact that you can get prescription codeine medication without a prescription fairly easily. Controlling abuse of prescription drugs is really hard (just look at us here in the USA) and I'm not sure what the best balance is there. Honestly if you wanted to look at it from a harm reduction standpoint the best thing to do might be to provide a supply of clean heroin so that people could get their high or stave off their withdrawal symptoms (crocodile addicts, like most opiate addicts, eventually stop using for the high and start using just to prevent withdrawal and keep cravings at bay) without absolutely destroying their bodies in the process. This stuff is out and I don't know if there's a way to put it back in the bottle. The ingredients are easy to get -- gasoline, iodine, matches and codeine. Restricting the sale of codeine will help some, at the cost of denying medicine to people who have a legitimate need for it.

I don't see it happening soon. I don't see the political will or the necessary vision coming to the fore anytime soon. This is not something that can be dealt with through punitive measures. It needs to be dealt with via social psychology and harm reduction. It's horrible that this is happening and that we (as a species, I mean; I'm American and as far as I know this stuff hasn't made it over here -- yet.) are doing nothing about it. This is a tragedy, an atrocity, a nightmare. Not the only one, of course. But it is, nonetheless.
posted by Scientist at 9:06 AM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

In general, are Russians as stoic and fatalistic as culture draws them?

In general, yeah.

'Cause if they are, that certainly can't help.

It doesn't. Part of why Russia has such an incredibly high addiction rate (counting alcohol as an addiction, which one should) is the indifference to the very possibility of improving one's lot.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:23 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Restricting the sale of codeine will help some, at the cost of denying medicine to people who have a legitimate need for it.

Not really. You're talking about a country with black and grey markets as easily accessible than the standard market, and a bureaucracy that made this possible. Hell, I grew up in a Russian community in America and if there's one eternally stable idea, it's that anything can be bought if you're rich enough or smart enough.
posted by griphus at 9:29 AM on August 7, 2012

(Or, if you are neither, can pay someone who is.)
posted by griphus at 9:30 AM on August 7, 2012

I googled some pictures and they were utterly horrifying. Jesus.
posted by OmieWise at 9:31 AM on August 7, 2012

Heart wrenching read from the safety of sobriety, I can't claim to have been there done that but I can relate to the resolute hopelessness of the addict. The idea of being clean and sober seems as impossible as sprouting wings and flying away. Unfortunately your mind and intellect do not deteriorate as swiftly as the rest of you body you are painfully aware of the cost of addiction and only able to see death as your way out. Waiting to die being forced by the physical addiction to feed your habit is a terrible way to live. The understanding of this inevitability is a part of the living hell addiction becomes. If you wonder why there is a "war" on drugs it is that some people remember the pain and degradation of addiction, they are not out to harsh your buzz, there is something much more important at stake. I don't think prohibition can work but education, identification, and rehabilitation are the best way to proceed.
posted by pdxpogo at 11:10 AM on August 7, 2012

Russian drug policy is one of the few things that make me feel better about US drug policy. It is horrific and ensures constant violations of human rights as well as the deaths of thousands of people. It is one of the best examples in the world of just how badly prohibition works to accomplish *anything* except increasing death and suffering. Russia does not have education or rehabilitation, only prohibition.

Methadone, the single most researched, most effective treatment for opiate addiction in the world, is not LEGAL in Russia. Advocates have been arrested for promoting it. You have to travel to the Ukraine to get treatment.

The Andrey Rylkov Foundation has had its website shut down by the government. Anya Sarang is one of my personal heroes, and speaks and writes at length about what is happening in Russia.

Here's an overview of harm reduction and drug policies in Russia and other parts of the former USSR.

A report on women incarcerated for drug use. "Moreover, in Russia, almost 20,000 women are imprisoned for drugs, which is more than double the amount of women in prison in the countries of the European Union combined.

The treatment of people who use drugs in Russia breaks my heart and I have nothing but admiration and respect for the people who fight back there.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:37 AM on August 7, 2012 [12 favorites]

On a systemic level you'd have to attack the supply.

On the other hand, the entire history of supply-side prohibition failing.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:40 AM on August 7, 2012

When I read about this drug I get a weird sense of cognitive dissonance, because Krokodil used to be a famous Russian satirical magazine.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:24 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

‘It was a tiny little person, the size of a kitten. It seemed to get stuck here.’ She indicates between her legs. ‘I held it and took some paper and tore it out. It already had little hands, but it didn’t yet have a face.’
That was a harrowing read.
posted by unliteral at 6:25 PM on August 7, 2012

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