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.  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).  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.