Heroin Addiction in Russia

This post was submitted by photographer Brendan Hoffman

Russia has one of the fastest-growing rates of HIV infection in the world. The foremost cause is the widespread use of heroin and the drug’s associated problems of shared needles and trading sex for drugs.

Addiction is more often approached as a crime than a disease to be treated. Making matters worse, methadone maintenance treatment – a well-reputed substitution therapy for opiate addiction around the world – is illegal in Russia. As a result, organizations that seek to treat heroin addicts must find creative ways to be effective. Funding for this work is limited, and in many parts of the country, authorities are not supportive of harm reduction approaches such as needle exchange programs or distributing condoms to sex workers.

I took these photos to show the uphill struggle faced by organizations combating injection drug use in Russia. Despite individual successes, without changes in societal outlook and legal options, Russia may lose this fight.

My experiences working on this project have impacted me in several ways. It has deepened my appreciation for a complex and fascinating country where old attitudes, such as the idea that drug addicts deserve of contempt, die hard. With regards to my understanding of heroin use, I have a better sense of how good people can fall into drugs, and why good intentions don’t always help those who are suffering.

Humanitarian Action

St. Petersburg, Russia
sasha@haf-spb.org (English)
Roza Vetrov
Kazan, Russia
alizaripov@yandex.ru (Russian)