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Fight Continues Between Politicians and Harm Reduction Activists

Categories: Feature, Rising Voices Projects, Translation

Mathadone

A few weeks ago a Ukrainian Web site, administrated by the Rising Voices grantee Drop-In Center, [1] was discussing the decision of the City Council of Sevastopol [2]. The city has decided to ban [3]the implementation of methadone substitution therapy programs in municipal medical establishments.

Ukraine's Ministry of Health [4]is planning to introduce substitution therapy [5]programs in 111 medical establishments all over the country, based on recommendations by the World Health Organization [6]. However, Sevastopol's City Council members have concluded that substitution therapy just replaces the addiction of one dug with the addiction of another, and so it can't be considered a treatment. Sevastopol's City Council is appealing to all municipalities of Ukraine to follow its example and forbid replacement therapy.

Their appeal may be working. During the last two weeks two more cities in the South of Ukraine have attempted to ban replacement therapy programs. According to a recent post found in Drop-In Center's Web newsletter “Motylek,” [7] the City Council of Yalta [8] voted on whether to ban the therapy in city hospitals, but failed to pass the resolution.

Members of Yalta's City Council who are familiar with public health issues strongly support substitution therapy programs. Svitlana Chirkova, the head of the City Department of Public Health, and Leonid Bankovskiy, the Chief Doctor of Narcotics Laboratory, urged council members before the vote to support methadone programs. As a result, advocates of the ban got only 19 of the 26 votes needed. Yalta City Council members who initiated the vote were very unhappy with these results. One of the most active supporters of the ban, City Council member Mr. Belyayev, said:

We were told by the public health officials that methadone is a drug that does not cause euphoria and doesn't harm the body much, especially the liver and kidneys, and that while taking it an addict can recover. But it is common knowledge that methadone can be prescribed only to incurable drug addicts.

The opponents of methadone programs have promised to continue their attempts to ban these programs. They are also going to start a public awareness campaign to encourage the prevention of drug addiction among youth.

“Motylek” has also published an interview [9]Ms. Valentina Gayvarovska, one of the council members of Odessa Oblast, gave to a local news agency. In the interview, Ms. Gayvarovska stated that the political party that she represents was going to fight to ban substitution therapy programs all over Ukraine. Below are snippets from her interview:

Ms. Valentina Gayvoronovska

Ms. Valentina Gayvorovska

It would be a shame for Ukraine if under a plausible pretext drug addicts can legally get one of the strongest and most dangerous synthetic drugs.

The United States’ experience with substitution therapy has not shown any positive results. More people have died because of methadone overdose than heroin overdose.

According to the government's plan, over the next two years drug addicts of Ukraine will receive free methadone… When the army of methadone addicts will be large enough, the international funds will stop the funding and we will have to buy the drugs for our children, wives, husbands and friends…one gram of methadone costs from $170 to $300.

Methadone therapy decelerates rehabilitation and social adaptation of drug addicts and we should initiate a public discussion and changes of Ukrainian legislation to stop this insanity.

To present another view of methadone treatment programs, organizations advocating for the needs of those with drug addiction have produced a public awareness video, which is being shown on regional TV and posted on the Internet. The video, called “Truth About Substitution Therapy,” has also been posted on the Drop-In Center's three Web sites. It describes the work of a replacement therapy program in another southern Ukrainian city called Simferopol, and shows real people: doctors, parents, and patients who share their opinions about replacement therapy programs. Here is the video:

The doctor from the Simferopol methadone site says in this video that for him substitution therapy is a revolution in narcology, as it is much more effective than any other method for treating drug addiction.

I do not care what politicians say, the only thing I care about are the needs of my patients….As a doctor I see the results and will prescribe this therapy to my patients.

The video also shows a mother who is happy that her son, who, after trying many methods of treatment, has finally returned to a normal life thanks to methadone therapy. A few other patients of replacement therapy programs also talk about how the therapy has changed their lives for good.