We headed for a Minsk market at the end of September. A well-known kiosk where drug addicts can buy opium seeds has been working there for years. We recorded everything with a hidden camera.
“250 grams, please,” we told the seller without even saying ‘poppy’.
“I can only give you 300,” the woman replied pointing at black poppy seed packs prepared in advance.
“Okay, we’ll buy 300”.
The woman took Br120 thousand (one kilo costs 400 thousand roubles) and held out a black pack of poppy seeds. 300 grams is enough for one injection, clients say.
We tried making an examination of the seeds to find out whether they were really saturated with opium.
We were surprised. Although thousands of people are using such poppy seeds to shoot up, it is impossible to examine their composition in Belarus. The corresponding UN convention forbids announcing any poppy seeds a drug. Drug dealers make use of it. The first poppy seeds imported to Belarus were saturated with codeine and thebaine. Unfortunately, drug addicts can extract opium from any type of poppy seeds before they undergo special heat treatment. They do not even need poppy straw admixtures.
“The subject is tricky and nobody knows where the limit should be,” head of the State Expertise Committee Department for Drug Research Alyaksandr Nevera said. “The expertise must stick to the existing methods. There is a problem if we find admixtures and it is okay if we don’t (the poppy seeds we had bought had no admixtures in them, – Euroradio). Moreover, we examine poppy seeds only in exceptional cases several times a year. Such expertises take very long – up to 12 months.”
Euroradio was shown a drug addict’s urine sample in one of the regional drug abuse clinics. It contained morphine, codeine and neopine.
It turns out that it is impossible to examine opium poppy seeds in Belarus if there are no admixtures in them. But drug addicts can successfully extract one of the most dangerous substances from such seeds.
The only thing we could do is send the poppy seeds to the State Corn Inspectorate and check if they corresponded to the state standards. The seeds resembled normal poppy seeds, laboratory assistants told us. They were not even slightly bitter. However, a profound test showed that they had a small amount of poppy straw in them and that their humidity exceeded the norm. Such poppy seeds cannot be used for baking and cannot be sold.
It was not easy to visit a disorderly house. Neither ex-addicts, nor civil organizations working with them could help us.
It took us a month to find people who agreed to test our poppy seeds. Before going to the flat where they could prepare injections, the young men went to the same kiosk we had visited earlier and bought 300 grams of poppy seeds there. Then they called a drug taxi and bought 300 more grams. They bought a litre of some Belarusian solvent and started cooking.
Valodzya and Sasha (the drug addicts) described their life while cooking the substance. They were very muck alike. Both of them were friends and had been shooting up for about 5 years. Both were alive while many their acquaintances had already died. By the way, Sasha graduated from an economic university.
Both friends were hepatitis and HIV-positive, they did not seem to be bad people although they had several convictions for thefts.
“There is no other way. Your brain gets switched off. You need about $1000 a month for poppy seeds,” Valodzya said putting the solvent onto the cooker. “I am a builder and I get by somehow. I cannot quit shooting up. You can’t imagine how hard it is! Everything may be put in order as soon as they remove this nasty thing from the streets,” the man complained about poppy seeds making an injection from them.
The process took 39 minutes. We are not going to describe the method. However, you do not need much for it: poppy seeds, a few metal bowls and several easily accessible ingredients. This is all you need for a drug laboratory.
A milky brown liquid was made from the seeds. Valodzya shot up in the groin – the veins on his arms were no good anymore. The man sat down in an armchair, his speech became slower and his look lost concentration...
The poppy seeds we had bought in the market were the same as the ones delivered by the drug taxi, the addicts said.
“The poppy seeds they add to buns are no good. You cannot make anything from them after heat treatment. We tried to,” Sasha added.
The real number of poppy addicts is about 130 or 150 thousands in Belarus
Belarusians were getting addicted to poppy seeds in a very cynical and scoffing way. The first opium poppy seeds appeared in Belarus in 2004 and were sold... in shops. Then they appeared in markets and groceries.
Officials kept ignoring the problem. We complained about the most popular poppy seeds point of sale in Kulman Street to the deputy Minister of Trade last year. Even the state mass media wrote about that drug addiction hotbed. However, the Ministry officially replied that no drug points of sale had been discovered.
Hrodna Medical University Drug Addition Monitoring Centre announced the real number of people shooting up in 2008 – 76.3 thousands. The official information said that there were only about 7.4 thousand addicts registered in drug abuse clinics. The head of the Centre refused to present updated information about the real number of injection addicts in 2013 thus violating the Law on Citizens’ Appeals.
However, it is easy to count the number of poppy addicts. If 15.5 thousands are registered in drug abuse clinics, it means that the real number of addicts is about 150 thousand (!) people. The number is about 130 thousands, competent institutions told Euroradio. It is more than the whole population of Orsha.
Who prevents the anti-poppy decree from coming into power?
The only institution that has been openly struggling with drug distribution is the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The police are in a stupid situation now. They cannot arrest drug dealers because poppy seeds are not a drug. You can only detain them for working without a licence and fine them. The fine will be compensated in half a day’s work time.
They can only detain drug addicts in disorderly houses.
The MIA initiated an anti-poppy decree last year. Several other agencies and MPs including Zinaida Mandrouskaya supported the police.
The bill was needed to introduce “a strict system of control over the import of poppy seeds and their sale in Belarus”, the Ministry officially replied to Euroradio.
Put simply, it was suggested introducing the state’s monopoly on poppy seeds. Thus, poppy seeds would only be sold to enterprises involved in baking. All poppy seeds would undergo heat treatment. Physical entities selling poppy seeds would be fined for €1-8 thousand and their vehicles and storehouses would be confiscated.
However, the decree was not signed although it had been approved by all the interested departments including the Council of Ministers.
The forces creating obstacles for solving the poppy problem are called the poppy lobby. But neither journalists nor civil activists know who these people are.
The decree was said to be stopped during an expertise in the National Legislation and Legal Research Centre in the President’s Administration. Euroradio received an official reply from the centre.
“Conducting an expertise of the President’s legal acts and the approval of such acts is beyond the scope of the centre,” the document signed by director Vadzim Ipatau said.
One more fact drives to despair and makes you smile at the same time. Belarus is a state where even the most ambiguous laws can be adopted. However, as soon as it comes to a law forbidding the sale of poppy seeds, some people start mentioning ‘legal circumstances’. They are disputing the legality of confiscation of drug dealers’ cars and storehouses. It turns out that a drunken driver may lose his car while a drug dealer is safe (even a small drug taxi can make up to $3 thousand in 15 days).
It would be naive to believe that someone’s personal interest is not to blame for the fact that the anti-poppy law has not come into power. However, we cannot say what people are the poppy lobby in Belarus. We do not have this information.
But one thing is clear. The number of poppy addicts in Belarus is alarming. They can prepare injections in half an hour and the seeds are still on the open market.
Injection addicts drive cars and steal to buy poppy seeds. Hardly anyone can get back to normal life after a shot. About 1-2% quit and do not take the drug for at least 5 years. About 10% can quit for 12 months only to come back later.
We are hoping that justice ill win in the war of honest-minded officials with the evil and the humiliating narcotisation of Belarusians will be stopped.