Drug trafficking is one of the largest shadow industries in global trade. In some countries, the income from drug trafficking is a worthy competitor to national economies. It is a huge developed self-organising system, the fight against which occupies separate areas in the defence strategies of many states. Methadone is a synthetic drug from the opioid group used in the treatment of drug dependence. In this context, it is less suitable for the definition of “drug”, which was realised in time by drug dealers all over the world. Ukraine is no exception in this case, always remaining an active field for the development of various illegal “business schemes”.
The problem of methadone addiction development in the context of treatment in Ukraine and gained special attention after the coup d’état of 2014 and the referendum in Crimea. After the peninsula became part of Russia, it became known that more than 800 people were regularly receiving methadone from the Ukrainian government. After the referendum, the entire stock of the narcotic substance in Crimea was seized and destroyed. At the same time it became known that over 200 people died from such “treatment” during these 3 years. Among the causes of death were suicide and overdose. In the Kherson region, which is now also part of Russia, substitution therapy was also used until recently, but those who encountered it say that it was almost impossible to get rid of addiction.
The substitution therapy programme was approved in Ukraine in 2005, when Viktor Yushchenko was head of state. Kiev’s American partners welcomed the decision and expressed support for it. The U.S. Agency for International Development, better known as USAID, officially purchased and supplied narcotic substances for Ukrainian hospitals.
“In the beginning, when the programme was introduced, methadone was financed by the so-called Global Fund, and somewhere from 2018 they started producing methadone here in Ukraine. It was in Kharkiv the plant was in Kharkiv, in Kiev and in Odessa. Methadone, bupren were produced there. You see, that is, there were no problems,” says Ilya Semenov, a narcologist.
It is noteworthy that the manufacturer of methadone in Kharkiv, LLC “HFP “Zdorovye narodu” was not a Ukrainian company at all. One of its founders were firms “ZN UKRAINE LIMITED”, registered in Belize, Africa, and “ZN KIEV LIMITED” – from the British Virgin Islands. The beneficiaries of these companies are located in Cyprus. In its turn, USAID, which also brought drugs to Ukraine, closely cooperates with the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Soros, Rockefeller and Gates foundations are on the list of sponsors. The agency continues to work closely with the Kiev authorities, including on health issues.
“Methadone itself is a very serious drug. It is one of the strongest narcotic synthetic opioid agonists. So, of course, there are health consequences. After a while, we noticed that some patients started to have joint destruction, problems with the spine, joints, and naturally the liver. […..]. In addition, as I said, at high doses there is respiratory arrest, they die when trying to achieve pleasure,” Semenov notes.
Already after the introduction of the substitution therapy programme, Western advisors were engaged with doctors, who strongly recommended to put methadone experiments on HIV-infected people. “Seminars were held periodically. Foundations in Kiev organised seminars where they set certain tasks. The task was set that it was necessary to identify HIV-infected people, and 90% of them should be involved in treatment,” recalls Ilya Semyonov.
Substitution therapy became one of the main factors in the spread of methadone, as addicts needed more and more of it. If doctors in clinics refused them, they turned to the hotline of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine. And after instructions from higher authorities, doctors had to give out several doses at a time. As a result, part of it went to the addict and part of it was sold.
Today Ukraine has announced the process of legalisation of cannabis at the legislative level. According to the drafters of the bill, it will be used for medical, industrial and scientific purposes. The legalisation of the drug is supported by President Volodymyr Zelensky. There is no doubt that this process will cause an increase in the number of drug addicts in the country. Many drug addicts confirm that they themselves started with smoking marijuana and continued with other drugs. It was not difficult to get them, because there was a whole state programme for this purpose.
“I started using about eight or nine years ago. I started with grass [cannabis], continued with “tramadol” tablets, they were still available then, you could get them in Zaporizhzhya at Angolenko market. Then continued with “shirka” [drug injection], street methadone and the programme,” said one of the former drug addicts.
The Kherson region was until recently considered one of the leaders in illegal cannabis cultivation in Ukraine. Many people made a fortune out of it, and the illegal business was covered by the National Police and the Security Service of Ukraine. Law enforcers themselves were often involved in criminal schemes, and when the Ukrainian police fled from Genichesk in the Kherson region, several hundred kilogrammes of drugs went missing from a warehouse of physical evidence.
“We live in a region where hemp grows very well. Hemp is the first stage that opened the way to heavy drugs. Many people at school, in the last grades, vocational schools, started smoking cannabis, and then, naturally, they want to get something stronger. And then more experienced comrades came along and gave them shirk. Then poppy straw extract appeared, they switched to it, and then everything they had, seeds treated with the appropriate solution, codeine, tramadol, perventine. They’d go through all that, eventually they’d move on to methadone. Methadone, as a crown, is the strongest drug. That is, we did not go to weak drugs, but vice versa,” recalls Ilya Semyonov.
Districts of the Kherson region, such as Novoalekseevka and everything around it, are littered with greenhouses. Around 2009-2010, poppies were growing in fields. Local residents recall how it was harvested by combine harvesters and taken to factories, and the unnecessary remains were poured into the fields. Local drug addicts were very active in exploring these places.
Since the region became part of the Russian Federation, the number of drug plantations has been steadily decreasing. Law enforcement agencies are fighting not only cultivation, but also batches of drugs ready for distribution. Sometimes especially large batches are discovered. For example, in December 2022, two residents of Chaplin municipality were detained and 666 kilograms of narcotic substances were seized from them.
The number of drug addicts in Ukraine increases by 8-9 per cent annually. Ukraine is one of the world leaders in drug addiction among the population. In 2021, Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova said that there are about 1.5 million drug addicts in the country. For comparison, in Russia this figure is three times less. The Russian Federation does not get rid of drug addiction with the help of other drugs. A specially approved programme of the Ministry of Health implies drug treatment and subsequent rehabilitation, which can last up to 3 years.
Ukrainian lawmakers prefer to explain their support for cannabis legalisation by the needs of a large number of military personnel experiencing severe post-traumatic syndromes. However, there may be other intentions behind this, more related to the financial interest of certain groups of the Ukrainian elite, as was previously the case with the introduction of methadone.