Russian schoolchildren may soon have to take mandatory drug tests as the authorities are struggling to fight a rapid rise in drug abuse among young people.

The number of drug addicts in Russia has shot up by nearly 60 per cent over the past 10 years, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told a Kremlin meeting of the Security Council this week. There are an estimated 2 to 2.5 million drug users in Russia, he said, and two-thirds of them are under 30. This means 6 in 100 young Russians are drug abusers.

Just as the Russian President and top government officials were pondering a new strategy to combat the drug evil a group of 10 school children were hospitalised in Samara region with poisoning after they ate hallucinogenic plant seeds during a class break in order to “get high.”

Mr. Medvedev admitted that there has been no breakthrough in controlling the spread of narcotics in Russia, which posed a threat to national security and the country’s demographic situation. He called for handing down stiffer prison sentences to people who deal drugs to minors, as well as for organised drug traffickers and drug-related corruption. He also broached the idea of putting school and university students to drug tests even though human rights groups said it would violate minors’ rights.

Coupled with the traditional Russian curse of alcohol abuse, the spreading drug addiction threatens to decimate the country’s population, which has been shrinking anyway. According to Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service, about 30,000 people die from drug abuse every year. Alcohol kills another 80,000.

Mr. Medvedev instructed the Security Council to draft a new anti-narcotics action plan that should not only introduce tougher penalties for drug-related crimes but also focus on prevention of drug abuse and rehabilitation of drug addicts.

“It is high time we shift the emphasis from punitive and prohibitive measures to treatment, rehabilitation and prophylactics,” the Russian leader said.

With 90 per cent of hard narcotics coming to Russia from Afghanistan Moscow is acutely aware that national efforts alone cannot solve the problem. Chief of the Federal Drug Control Service Viktor Ivanov told the Security Council meeting that Afghanistan “produces twice as much opium as the rest of the world produced ten years ago.” Mr. Medvedev has repeatedly called on the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan to step up the fight against opium production.

“It is time to put [Afghan] house in order,” the Russian leader warned at the Kremlin meeting.

Two days later Russia’s anti-narcotics chief criticised the coalition’s efforts as “extremely ineffective.” “International drug-producing cartels have turned Afghanistan into a drug-cultivating farm,” Mr. Ivanov stressed.

Moscow is so angry with the NATO forces failure to eradicate poppy plantations in Afghanistan that is threatening to tie the transit of U.S. arms and troops to Afghanistan via Russia to a stepped-up anti-narcotics drive in Afghanistan.

“The granting of transport corridors to NATO forces in Afghanistan should be conditioned on a commitment to destroy sown areas, laboratories, stocks and other infrastructure of the Afghan drug business,” Mr. Ivanov told Russia’s State Duma Parliament in June.

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