It is cheap and looks like marijuana, but it can have a lethal impact: the drug "spice" is making headlines in Russia. As of Oct. 7, there had been at least two dozen deaths and 700 people hospitalized, according to Viktor Ivanov, the director of Russia's Federal Narcotics Service. The drug is made up of cannabis substitutes, as well as chemicals, and is dissolved in tea. After being smoked, it can easily cause poisoning or lead to respiratory failure.
A 26-year old told Russian news channel RT that he had seen others getting addicted very fast. “Because of those chemicals that are used in it, it brings damage to your system straight away,” he told the media outlet.
Russian newspapers and TV channels are increasingly worried about the drug's rapid spread, which has awoken memories of the drug "krokodil." The substance made news last year for leaving its victims with scars that can look like a reptilian mark.
Shocking front page in RG on Russia's "epidemic" of addiction to synthetic drug Spice; 80,000 Russians a year hooked pic.twitter.com/Caa8rpyQoW
— Steve Rosenberg (@BBCSteveR) September 30, 2014
— RT (@RT_com) October 12, 2014
Recent YouTube videos appeared to show unconscious young Russian men lying in streets after consuming the drug, but the material's authenticity could not be verified by The Post. Many anti-drug campaigners warn that the dangers of 'spice' could in fact exceed those posed by heroin.
The Guardian described the suffering of one female addict who explained to the newspaper:
“One day I stood up and I understood with absolute clarity that the only way for me to escape from the awful life I was in was to murder both of my children, and then kill myself [...] I was crystal clear that this was the only course of action open to me. Luckily, my husband stopped me, and calmed me down. But what about people who don’t have that support?”
"Spice" has been used for years now, and it is not entirely clear why there has been such a rapid and significant increase in worrisome cases in recent weeks.
Russia blames the emergence of the drug on other countries. According to several Russian media reports, the drug supposedly originated in Southeast Asia and was brought to Russia by foreigners. Seventy percent of those detained in connection with the drug are reportedly not Russian citizens.
After the surprising and worrisome increase in poisonings, Russian authorities have promised to take a tougher stance. The Russian Federal Drug Control Service has arrested more than 90 suspects this year alone. On Friday, the agency furthermore indicated it would impose longer jail terms for criminals who peddle the drug, "if the consumption of the drug results in an individual's death, or if the distribution process is managed by an organized syndicate." In such cases, criminals face up to eight years in prison.
This video, distributed by Ruptly, shows the arrest of some alleged offenders, publicized at the beginning of last week.
With more and more cases being reported in Russian media -- including incidents of children jumping out of windows -- the problem has now taken a political dimension. The possibility to change the drug's composition as soon as a current version gets banned has left a loophole in Russian legislation. Politicians are now debating to define bans more broadly to make it illegal for producers of the drug to create new mixtures.