Drug addiction, once barely recognized as a problem in the Soviet Union, is now emerging as a cause for public concern.
This month, the Moscow Communist Party Committee decided to organize a "struggle against narcotics," calling for a program to identify addicts, to check supplies of prescription drugs and to "eliminate the conditions that give rise to this abnormal feature."
That drug addiction exists in Moscow, a city of 8 million, comes as no surprise to medical specialists here. The new phenomenon is that city authorities have decided to discuss it openly.
So far, no figures have been released on the number of addicts, which is apparently still small by western standards. But still, according to Soviet doctors, the number of drug addiction cases has risen recently. Some attribute the increase to the year-long crackdown on alcohol -- Russia's older and more common social scourge.
With lines for vodka growing longer and longer -- one this week measured one-sixth of a mile -- people have turned to other sources: industrial alcohol in factories, eau de cologne from pharmacies and apparently drugs where they can be found.
The Moscow committee's draft order, published April 10, was followed up a few days later by what most agreed was the first in-depth feature article in a Moscow youth newspaper. The article drew a harrowing portrait of young Soviet drug addicts.
"Statistics show that the number of narcotic cases is not very high, but each case makes us anxious, urges us to consider the situation and take the most serious measures," Vladimir Nazarov, chief of a narcotics treatment hospital, concluded in the article in the youth newspaper, Moskovskii Komsomolets.
Already this is more of an admission than a previous statement appearing in a medical journal, in which an author said, "No one case of heroin addiction, cocaine addiction or usage of drugs such as LSD has been registered in dozens of years."
The tales in the Moscow paper were ones familiar not only in the West, but also to Soviet readers who have seen numerous stories about the dereliction and despair of addicts in U.S. slums. Now, however, the examples did not come from Bedford Stuyvesant, or 14th Street, but from the Soviet capital.
The Komsomolets article traces a familiar link between drugs and crime -- tampering with prescriptions, smuggling, thefts and even murder.
Here are some of the accounts given in the article:
*Dima was 16 when he went into a dark cellar with three other teen-agers and, out of curiosity, snorted "some substance with a strong odor." Four years later, he has lost his job, is receiving medical treatment and faces trial on unknown charges.
*Yura was 19 when he started the cycle of drugs and prison. He robbed a store and went to jail. He robbed again, and went back to prison, and drugs.
*An unnamed man in the hospital for drug treatment describes how he became dependent on his needle:
"I would wake up in the morning and understand only one thing -- if I do not 'get a fix,' I shall not be able to go to work. I simply could not imagine it. Soon I became a slave of those drugs," he is quoted as saying.
The article described his decline. "All his intentions and desires were centered on one thing: to get drugs at any price," it said.
Cut off from his supply, he turned to drink and was saved one day when his brother found him after he had consumed eight bottles of vodka.
The article gives no details of what drugs are being used in Moscow, but it implies that a large quantity are prescription drugs siphoned off from the Soviet Union's notoriously inefficient pharmaceutical system.
As Nazarov explained in the article, prescriptions containing narcotics were virtually uncontrolled in the 1960s. In the 1970s, he noted, homemade narcotics began to appear.
Hashish and harder drugs are often smuggled at Moscow's Sheremeteyevo International Airport.
Soviet laws against drug trafficking are strickt. The sentences for buying, manufacturing or selling narcotics is up to 10 years in prison.
Though highly risky and difficult to obtain, drugs have been available for years to those who have the money and the connections, Muscovites say.
Some Soviets also report that many soldiers returning from Afghanistan bring a drug habit with them.
In tracing Soviet drug addiction, the Komsomolets article attempts to differentiate its sources here from those in the West.
"It is hard to believe that people our age, living in our country, suffer from this disease. In the U.S.S.R. there are none of those social factors that encourage young people in the West to self-destruct with drugs.
"There the impossibility to find a job, despair, or sometimes, on the other hand, a surfeit of the good life leads people to seek oblivion, to walk away from reality."
By contrast, the article concluded that the problem in the Soviet Union can be traced to "shortcomings" in the education system and in family values.
"Being left to the street and to their own resources, children become victims of those whose life style runs counter to the norm."
The article noted the problem was acute among cynki, children of well-off families in which moral standards have been forgotten, it said.