[…] you’ve got to be there: you’re taking a leak in some filthy public urinal and the man in the next stall leans across and asks you about God or Kafka or freedom versus responsibility; so you tell him because you know, because you’re from the West. And before you’ve finished shaking your dick you think:”What a great country!” quote from The Russia House (1990)
This post is not about puppies or rainbows. Coz you know… so many of my posts are. But… you’ve been warned.
There’s been a lot of talk about drugs in Toronto lately. Our mayor has a wee bit of a drug problem, you see. (As any Torontonian, I desperately wanted to avoid talking about this, but it just won’t freaking go away).
The media (as always) took the story and ran with it. SNL and Jon Stewart at least have the right idea – songs were written, skits were created. The situation is fairly comical, and instead of crying, you might as well laugh. This was always the Russian approach.
Yet another prevalent theme of the reports in Canada has been on the apparent drug epidemic in the country.
We, Canadians, must be especially prone to panic, because it does not seem to take much. Ladies, gentlemen and everyone else, just because our mayor is smoking crack cocaine. drinking (and dishing out racist and homophobic remarks, and making a fool out of himself on nearly a weekly basis), does not mean that we have a drug epidemic on our hands. It just means that… well, that our mayor is smoking crack cocaine and is drinking. And , and… and… and…
I don’t often talk about Russia on this blog. But I will today. As my friend David reminded us the other day:
WHAT IS AN EPIDEMIC?
I recently had a pleasure (?) of listening to a radio special, discussing the latest drug epidemic, “sweeping through the nation” – I kid you not, that was the expression. Specifically, the show explored the question of whether the deadly drug Krokodil is taking over Canada. (Spoiler alert: probably not.)
Krokodil, cannibal heroin, zombie drug, poor man’s heroin are all street names for desomorphine. Krokodil means “crocodile” in Russian, and is so corrosive that it destroys user’s tissues at the site of injection, turning skin scaly and green, like a crocodile. [Those with morbid curiosity can check out this article about a recent appearance of krokodil in the U.S. Warning: graphic photos.]
The drug was born in Russia around ten years ago. We’ve always been somewhat of an overachieving nation, when it comes to self-destruction. Now in 2014, the Western nations started taking notice as occasional reports of the drug have been reported in the United States.
It takes about half an hour to make from readily available ingredients such as codeine (sold over the counter until June 2012, when the Russian government banned the substance in an attempt to control the drug use), paint thinner, gasoline and eye drops. The drug is 10 times cheaper than heroin, and the high lasts one to two hours. While an average life expectancy of a heroin addict is five to seven years, a krokodil addict can expect to live only a year or two. Only 1% of users who try krokodil end up kicking the habit.
Never mind that, in Canada, drug use has decreased, not increased, over the years, and there has not been a single confirmed case of krokodil use. Hell, looking at the big picture, the claim of an epidemic is almost offensive.
Epidemic is defined as a widespread occurrence of a disease or a condition in a community at a particular time, spreading rapidly and affecting many individuals in an area or population.
You want to talk about an epidemic?
As of 2011, Russia is the largest consumer of heroin in the world, consuming over 20% of the world’s supply. Out of the estimated 9.2 million heroin users in the world, 1.5 million are in Russia.
Countries of the former Soviet Union are also the fastest rates of new HIV/AIDS infections take place (surprise!).
I first learned about krokodil from a documentary I learned about krokodil from a documentary “Siberia: Krokodil Tears” (you can watch it in full here. It’s only 25 minutes, but do grab a drink). The film talks about a small Siberian town of Novokuznetsk, close to the border with Kazakhstan.
In this town 20% of population estimated to be addicted to heroin.
In this town, an average life expectancy for a male is 64, and 25% of men die before reaching the age of 55.
In this town, most of my family lives. My grandparents, aunt, uncle, cousins. In this town, I was born.
This is me, pre-squats.
I’ve seen this documentary three times. Every time it puts me into a funk for days. But I can’t look away. The ultimate train wreck.
If you choose to watch it, I don’t know what you’ll see.
But I know what I see: the city where I was born and familiar streets.This is like a grotesque horror movie, only it’s my hometown. And I recognize the gray depressing landscapes in the documentary.
Few years ago my grandparents were picking a place to live based on how many syringes they saw in the hallways of potential condo buildings. Yes, not whether… HOW MANY. Being a smart consumer at its best – “no, we won’t live here – there are way more empty syringes here than in our current building”.
My hometown is a place where a dead body of an addict found on a playground is not an unusual occurrence, and where a child walking with her father picks up a bloody syringe off the ground, which he snatches from her before she has a chance to poke herself.
Picture of a “playground” I took near my grandparents’ place. Anyone want to come up with a caption? “From childhood into the grave?”
Do. Not. Talk. To. Me. About. A. Drug. Epidemic.
Given a steady supply of pure inexpensive heroin, krokodil is hardly a threat in North America. Way too much hassle.
Mother Russia, meanwhile, is the land of contrasts. While billionaires worldwide account for about 1% of total wealth, in Russia 35% of all household wealth is owned by 110 people. Apart from a couple of small Caribbean nations, this represents the highest level of wealth inequality in the world.
[If you’d like to learn more, check out Children Leningradsky, the film about at least 30,000 children living on the streets and railway stations in Moscow alone. It’s like a more sobering version of the Slumdog Millionnaire. More sobering because other countries do not really think of Russia as a third world country, struggling with homelessness and poverty. Prepare to be punched in the stomach.]
One voice of reason – Dr. Andrew Kolodny, Chief Medical Officer of Phoenix House – suggests that the hype about krokodil use in North America may itself be harmful, as it can take our attention away from more pressing issues.
In North America, talking about a drug epidemic is akin to vacuuming the house, when the house is on fire. Stop vacuuming the damn house.
In Canada, rates of obesity have doubled since 1981. Currently, over half of the population is overweight, and one in four are obese. In a country with population of 34.88 million people, that means 8.7 million people are obese. Obesity costs the Canadian economy billions of dollars every year. Just ask Rob Ford.
World Health Organization estimates that there are more than 1.4 billion (yes, BILLION) adults who are overweight or obese, and at least 2.8 million adults die each year as a direct result of being overweight or obese.
Did you like how I brought this scary drug horror story to the moral message of eating better and moving more?
I hope I put things in perspective. So, please…
Count your blessings, stop talking about a zombie apocalypse, and get off your damn couch.
Leaving you with the original Russian krokodil: From Russia with(out) Love, Solo