Health  Russia Project #18708

Harm Reduction services for 3000 Moscow drug users

by The Andrey Rylkov Foundation
HIV testing and counseling in our minivan
HIV testing and counseling in our minivan

Dear friends --

Before the end of 2017, I would like to thank you once again for your unceasing support of our work on providing essential services to people who use drugs in Moscow. I also wanted to briefly share with you some heartwarming results of our work in 2017.

Unfortunately, in 2017 the health crisis in Russia keeps aggravating - unlike in other countries of the world the HIV epidemic is on the rise, especially among people who use drugs. Hepatitis C treatment is not available to people in need, and around 9000 overdose deaths were officially registered last year. The government of Russia is very persistent in its opposition to effective, evidence-based and humane approaches, such as opioid treatment and harm reduction. Our organization and like-minded NGOs remain under constant attack of the authorities - which included us in the Foreign Agents registry, fined and punished for our work. Russian drug policy is still one of the most conservative and repressive in the world. But despite all that, we believe we must resist and to keep helping our community and friends, even in this oppressive political climate.

One of ARF's most important activities is the harm reduction project -- the only one in Moscow -- that provides services, support, and prevention materials to people who use drugs. Most of our participants are very poor and very marginalized people. Some of them are homeless, some are migrants, some are sex workers. Some don’t have any documents, many struggle to support themselves and their children and almost everyone faces legal problems. Our work helps people to improve their health, protect them from infections and overdose, but most importantly, we treat people with loving, dignity and respect that they deserve.

Here are some numbers: in 2017 we served around 3500 clients and provided 222.105 clean syringes and a little over 41.000 condoms. We carried out 1 138 counseling sessions on HIV and hepatitis and provided 324 HIV rapid tests, 26 of them turned out positive.
We distributed informational materials on health and legal issues and a newspaper for drug users. We provided 1233 individual consultation on overdose and 3573 ampules of Naloxone - a medicine that prevents the overdose death. We ask people to come back and tell us if there were able to save their friend's life with the help of Naloxone. In 2017 we received a record number of such reports -- 416 lives were saved with the help of Naloxone, and these are only those people that we know of for sure!

Besides working on the streets, we accompany our participants to health and social services, to drug treatment if opportunities arise. We help our project participants obtain the medical and social assistance they are entitled to. We also document cases of human rights violations and assist people who want to act and protect their rights. This year our participants have submitted 40 complaints to different government structures regarding violations of their rights. 207 participants received legal support, 82 participants received support in restoring their official documents. We have over 25 legal cases submitted to the European Court on Human Rights which aim to strategically challenge the repressive Russian legislation and practices.

Finally, we run a number of tiny sweet projects that help to make the lives of our participants a little bit happier. Among them: activities for children of people who use drugs - we take them to theaters and museums, organize parties where they can spend time with their parents, right now we are preparing for a New Year celebration. We also host several support groups, a cinema club, a women's club, and various social activities for our participants.

2018 is going to be a challenging year for us since we will not be getting the financial support of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria any longer, and no other major donors have emerged on the horizon so far. But we believe in our cause and will keep our little fight for the lives and health of our community and the humane drug policy in Russia. In this, we feel very much supported by our friends and like-minded people like yourselves, and we are very grateful for this support.

We wish you fun holiday adventures and a very very happy 2018!

With deep gratitude, on behalf of the team

Anya <3


On August 31, the International Overdose Awareness Day, activists of Andrey Rylkov Foundation and Forum of people who use drugs in Russia picketed the Ministry of Health and the Moscow Endocrine Plant. The action aimed to draw the attention of the society and the state to the problem of opiate overdoses in Russia and to protest the government inaction on the matter.

In 2016, the Chief Narcologist of the Ministry of Health of Russia, Evgeny Briun, reported that almost 8000 people die from overdoses in Russia every year. [1] For comparison, in 2015, an unprecedented number of overdose deaths (8 400) was registered in 30 states (28 countries of the European Union, Turkey, and Norway). [2] Naloxone – the medicine which helps to save lives in case of an opioid overdose, remains inaccessible for people who use opiates in Russia as it remains a prescription drug. For the same reason, the public health NGOs working with drug users are not able to purchase and distribute naloxone.

The activists handed over petitions demanding that the Ministry develops a consistent strategy aimed at reducing the number of overdoses in Russia, and ensures that naloxone is accessible over-the-counter.

We would like to share with you the personal stories from the action and some photos.


Our action near the Ministry of Health went smoothly. Security guards remembered me from the last time, and it seemed like they were happy to see me again. They remembered the “Support, don’t punish” action last year, thanked for the traditional photos, one of them was very interested in our plans and asked when the journalists were going to arrive and whether we remembered that petitions should be submitted to the office number 3.

The passers-by were passing by taking a blind eye. One guy asked me what kind of overdose causes deaths and hearing the answer “overdose of drugs” gave a valuable advice not to use drugs. It reminded me of what drug users used to tell me countless times that they wanted to quit but they simply can’t.

The security guard and I discussed the issue of drug dependency for a long time, whether it should be treated as an illness or a form of debauchery, whether the state should or should not support people who use drugs and ensure their access to medical care. We discussed that too many people are imprisoned for simply using drugs, and my companion responded enthusiastically: “Well, of course, they don’t have to be kept in prison!” (and my heart leaped). “They should be just shot!” But at least the police didn’t appear this time.


Our picket at the Ministry of Health went on in a warm and friendly atmosphere. The visitors of the building and the security guards attentively examined my poster “Naloxone without prescription” and expressed their interest. Passers-by also paid some attention but to a lesser extent. So, my picketing turned out to be a form of visual agitation.


We had a poster “Stop deaths from overdoses, ” and the three of us came to the Endocrine plant (a plant that produces Naloxone). At first, we went to the entrance checkpoint, but the guard ran out shouting that we were trespassing and tried to push us down the road.

Later, the guards approached us and said: “our drugs relieve the pain of patients who have cancer, they are not made for drug addicts!” And then I realized that they thought we were protesting against drugs. We explained to them that we demand access to naloxone for people who use drugs, that we aren’t against opioid drugs and that August 31 is the International Overdose Awareness Day.

Then we went to the administrative office and filed the petition.


In my opinion, it is very important to participate in actions like this, as it is necessary to raise awareness of the overdose problem among the population, as it is necessary to find the solution to this problem.

Dear friends and supporters

Recently the journalists from the CNN has joined us in one of the outreach visits to the streets of Moscow. They have filmed the work of our street service, talked to our case manager Anya Alimova (Ezhi) and have written a comprehensive story about the HIV crisis in Russia that we are trying to address by providing the only HIV prevention service for drug users in Moscow. Please see the short video about our work and read and share the story! 

Thank you, as ever, for your support to our life-saving services! 

Anya Sarang and ARF team <3


Three years ago we started to distribute naloxone among people who use drugs during our outreach work on the streets of Moscow. Naloxone is a medication being used to treat an opioid overdose.

Now it's hard to remember where we did we manage to get it three years ago. But we remember the gratitude expressed by the project participants who saved lives of numerous of their friends and acquaintances thanks to our naloxone. We then we realized that there was no way back for us. We must continue providing people who use drugs with naloxone giving them a chance to save their peers from overdose, we must help community representatives to save the lives of other community members. Being an NGO we can't just buy naloxone due to several bureaucratic barriers including the absence of the medical license. That is why the project on overdose prevention among Moscow drug users has always been and remains a project of the civil society activists. Activists are organizing fund-raising for the purchase of naloxone. We get money from donations we receive from people during our fund-raising campaigns in social networks and through the Global Giving platform. Social workers use those funds raised to buy naloxone and provide our harm reduction project participants with it. Drug users give naloxone to their friends and teach them how to use it. This whole process is very inspiring. But what even is more inspiring and encouraging for us - is the feedback information we collect about the successful cases of overdose prevention thanks to our naloxone. And it's not just the cases; those are real people whose lives have been saved!

223 lives were saved in 2014.

194 lives were saved in 2015.

In 2016 we saved even more - 318 people!

735 saved lives in 3 years altogether!

And we keep working on overdose prevention among drug users. A new year is ahead and new lives to be saved.

We would like to thank all those people donated to support our project! Some people donated the money; some people were worried about our project and told others about it. We couldn't manage to save all those lives without your help, you are our hope and inspiration!

Meanwhile we'd like to share a few stories about the lives saved by naloxone, as told by the participants of our project "Harm Reduction - Moscow".

  1. What can I say? We all thought that he had been already dead... he was blue! He wasn't breathing. Then we tried injecting naloxone right into his arm, into the muscle. He came back to senses in just a few minutes! We saved him, yeah! Only 2 or 3 hours before that I had met you (social workers) and asked you to give me naloxone because a lot of people around were ODing. It's, like, really easy to use - just inject it and he's back to life again!


  1. The other day a friend of mine injected himself, but the dosage was too high. We were lucky that we had a vial of naloxone. I didn't waste time trying to find his vein and injected it in the muscle instead, as the social workers had advised us before. Just the day before yesterday two punks ODed right in the staircase. I injected them both with a vial, in a few minutes they started getting back to life.


  1. My girlfriend, our acquaintance and I were injecting heroin in the toilet cabin. My girlfriend finished the injection and immediately collapsed on the floor, I tried to save her, I thought - that was it, she was dying! But the acquaintance of ours got a vial out of his pocket and injected it in her muscle. I didn't believe it at first, I didn't even understand what he was doing... but it helped! I was shocked, of course, that thing is really great!


  1. We got our medicine, it turned out to be very strong, one dude injected himself and began to pass away. We didn't know what to do, we couldn't call an ambulance because they would call the police and we also couldn't just leave him like that. Just the day before, your social workers gave us naloxone. We injected it, as you had told, in the muscle - and he turned pink and started to breathe.

We have developed our "children's project" for more than 2 years. The purpose of this project is to make it possible for our drug using clients to have warm, friendly interactions with their children. Parents who use drugs often face various difficulties. It can be lack of money to provide for their children everything they need, they often feel exhausted, have health problems and are usually biased. We help the parents to cope with these difficulties and built close relationships with their children so they could feel like they are "good moms and dads." We regularly organize various activities for children and their families, where children can have fun, learn something new, get some presents and, most importantly,  communicate with their parents in a relaxed, warm atmosphere.

August is the time to get children ready for school. Parents have to purchase uniforms, school bags, notebooks, pens, rulers, study books, painting kits and a bunch of other important things. For the majority of Russian parents it is a huge part of the family budget. For our clients the prices for all those things could be unbearable and sometimes getting their children for school turns into a little family Apocalypse. That’s why it is important for us to make it a pleasant activity for both children and their parents: instead causing stress it should be an opportunity for mutual activities and a joyful friendly family communication. That's what our project is about - we not only simply buy and distribute pencils and notebooks, but we also build opportunities together with our clients to make such warm and friendly moments happen. That's why this year we decided to help the parents once more.

We would like to thank everyone who helped us collect the money for their selfless work; and now we want to tell how we managed to collect the necessary amount and what we did with it. So we had to collect 35 thousand rubles in no more than 3 weeks till the 1st of September. We got requests for help from 9 families out of 30 families participating in our project. We managed to collected 36100 rubles as a result of crowd funding through social networks and Global Giving platform. Donations were received from more than 40 people. Seeing that so many different people united to collect the money and help the children was very motivating for us. As always, during the fundraising we provided transparent reports on the collected money and openly informed about all incoming funds.

As a result, we bought a lot of useful things for the kids: several school uniforms, backpacks, cold weather boots and shoes to wear at school or indoors, hats, gloves, jeans, socks, blankets, pillows, sheets, notebooks, pens, pencils, painting kits, t-shirts for physical education and even a desk lamp. It took us some time to buy all these things and we finished the process only by the middle of October. 

Here are a few stories from our social workers who accompanied the parents and the kids at the shops, photographed the whole process and paid for the purchases.

Ezhi, ARF social worker:

I went to the store with Tania and her son Vanya to get a backpack. We didn't find anything good at the first two shops so we had to walk around a little bit until we found the backpack that everyone liked. I really enjoyed the trip: Tanya and Vanya are very close and we all chatted the whole way to the mall and happily walked there, although Vanya was shy at first. Eventually we bought a very adult-looking backpack in O'stin, and then we sat at the cafeteria a little bit. Vanya told me about his school and a football class, while Tanya made funny comments to his story, they communicated like old friends and I felt very comfortable with them chatting like that. They walked me to the station after that and sent me a very touching message later that evening: "Thanks again, Vanya is very happy! It was a great trip! Everyone liked the backpack. Vanya told his Dad that you look pretty)))!" In short, it was great and they made my day.

Lema, a social worker and psychologist at ARF:

"A few days ago a received a call from Vasya who was asking whether we have a spare jacket for Andrey (his son)". Today we went to the shop and bought a jacket for Andrey (prior to this, he was wearing his father's old jacket). We also bought a hat, a pair of jeans (as I understood, Andrey had only one pair of trousers for school and a pair of sweatpants), gloves and socks. Andrey and Vasya thanked me so many times that it made me a bit uncomfortable. Seems like they really needed our help. Once again we had a nice heartfelt conversation. It's nice to see that, despite all the difficulties and the fact that it is not always easy to communicate with his son, Vasya really cares about Andrey and in my opinion they have a really great relationship. It delights my heart to see that! We went to the shop with Vitya, Vasya's friend. I was amazed that such caring men still exist - he helped to choose the jeans and gave some useful advice. After we walked out of the shop, he said: "The world is small but there are people with hearts of gold!"

"Yesterday I went to Auchan with Vika's family. There were 4 of us: I, Vika, Kolya (it was just going to be his first year at school) and Lilya, she's 4 or 5 years old. At first I did not like all of that commotion because we usually ask in advance to choose the things so we could just come and pay, while trying the clothes and choosing the right ones takes sooo long. But all of this was not in vain, of course - it would be very difficult for Vika to try the clothes and look after the kids at the same time. As a result, the four of us had a great trip but we also got very tired. We bought boots for a cold season, a red t-shirt for PE class, a desk lamp and a couple of desktop book stands. Kolya said that he also needed watersport goggles, can we buy them if we have some money left? The coolest thing was to look how they all interacted with each other. In the beginning, when we were in a bus to the mall, they were discussing at their Mom's suggestion what an amazing adventure it would be that day. And all three hours that we spent together, we were chatting, having fun and making photos. Kolya saw that I was taking photos and asked me to try that too, and he took some great shots! Kolya was very glad. He carefully chose the desk lamp and carried it around the whole day after that. It was a great trip".

Masha, ARF social worker:

Our client Tosya has a daughter Julia who needed a haircut for the first day of school. Albina Popovkina, a hairstylist, agreed to cut Julia's hair at her parlor. At first Julia worried that she would get a "wrong haircut". So the girl was very tense while she was sitting in the chair. But she got comfortable in a few minutes and explained what kind of haircut she would want, after a while she felt almost like at home and told us that she liked to draw and prefers paint to pencils. "It was fun to take photos of her and the stylist, before the haircut and after, and to show the photos after it". It was fun to see how Julia sneakingly tries to touch her hair and take a photo of it "for her friend". It was a wonderful experience for the girl to sit in a chair at a hair dressing saloon like an adult, in front of the mirrors, where you could talk about drawing and they even offered you a cup of coffee or tea. Albina, the hair stylist, is a simply wonderful person, - on the way back she talked with Julia about her drawing, she said that everyone would notice Julia's new haircut at school the next day and her mom would like it too..'

Thanks to these stories and many others, now we know for sure: a lot of good people interact and participate in our "Children's project" - all of them help each other and that makes our hearts grow tender!

We know that pleasant and inspiring memories about this phase of the children's project will remain with us and with all of those involved in the project, with everyone who donated money, things or their time and helped us. Positive experience and warm memories will help us implement other planned activities of this project. We're going to organize common leisure activities throughout the school year — trips to the theaters, museums, Planetarium and other interesting and educational places. We plan to set various art workshops for schoolchildren at our office.

And of course, the New Year's Eve is ahead, so we're going to make a small celebration and to give presents from Father Frost [Russian Santa Claus] and the Snow Maiden!

Thanks to everyone who participated in this project: children, parents, donors, social workers and volunteers. We are pleased to see that there are so many people who care!

How much we spent:

  • Valentina's family (2 daughters of school age): flats, shoes, headband, belt, pants, skirt, dress-3693 rub.
  • Larisa and her daughter Masha: shirt, pants and underwear-3082 rub.
  • Vasya and his son Andrey: indoor shoes, sweats, sneakers, warm jacket, jeans, hat, gloves, socks (had to go to the shop twice)-7350 rub.
  • Alexander has 3 kids, 2 of them go to school - they got 2 backpacks and the stationery - 3070 rub
  • Eugene and his son Misha: a backpack and boots-2559 rub.
  • Vika with 3 kids: Shoes for the autumn for Kolya, t-shirt for PE class, desktop book stand, desk lamp + linen and sleepers for all the kids - 7472 rub
  • Tosya and her daughter Julia: pencils and gel pens 1707. rub + Julia got a haircut for free
  • Tania from Maryino and her son Vanya - 2499 rub

Total: 36100 


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Organization Information

The Andrey Rylkov Foundation

Location: Moscow, Europe - Russia
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
anya sarang
Moscow, Europe Russia
$22,384 raised of $30,000 goal
307 donations
$7,616 to go
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