Investigation: Selling 'legal highs' psychotropic agents in Belarus (video)

The decree forbidding the sale of opium poppy seeds came into power in February. About 150 thousand Belarusians were using such seeds to make injections. Such drug addicts were expected to register in drug addiction treatment centres in February. To medics’ surprise, it did not happen. Specialists think that they have probably started using Chinese psychotropic agents like spice, euphoria powders, bath salts, etc. These substances are also called ‘legal’ because drug dealers cannot be imprisoned for their distribution until they are added on the Republican Drug List.

Euroradio has conducted a journalist investigation: is it still easy to buy synthetic psychotropic agents in Belarus and what is the scale of this problem?

“You get addicted after the first shot. People become awfully paranoid”

“This is the new generation’s drug plague. Mental hospitals and rehabilitation centres are packed. You get addicted after the first shot. People taking these drugs become awfully paranoid. Many of them commit suicide,” author of District Chronicles, ex-addict Ruslan Mirzoyeu told Euroradio. “The most popular powder (also known as ‘crystal’) can be easily bought on the Internet. And it is much more destructive than any drugs that appeared in Belarus before. Buyers do not even have to contact sellers (drug dealers. – Euroradio’s note) personally. That’s the trick. People are ready for everything to get more powder: they can sell their furniture and commit crimes...”

Mirzoyeu was jailed a few days after the interview – he faced problems after his scandalous films District Chronicles and MAZ Chronicles had been out. He had been shooting an anti-drug documentary before he was sent to colony.

“People do not get the scale of the problem. That is why I would like to show how daring and effective drug dealers’ methods are while I am still at large,” Ruslan Mirzoyeu said when we were about to visit a few disorderly houses.

How it was.

“He started taking injections six months ago and became paranoid. He hid from someone in the toilet and hanged himself”

We used Ruslan Mirzoyeu’s old contacts from the drug world to visit disorderly houses.

A luxury apartment in Minsk microdistrict Serabranka. Young men aged about 18 or 20 had been taking ‘crystal’ for a few days. Hardly anyone could speak distinctly there.

We asked the flat owner to show us how to buy the powder. It took him a few minutes to find the advertisement that we needed on the Internet. The substance makes you feel really high and it is legal because it is not on the Republican Drug List, the advertisement said.

Then we contacted the drug dealer on Skype. He gave us the number of his web money purse – we had to pay 840 thousand roubles. We did it with the help of a terminal in a local supermarket and told the drug dealer the time of the payment. He told us the address where we could find our pack of powder 15 minutes later. It is very difficult to catch drug dealers if you can only contact them on Skype.

The drug dealer’s insidiousness surprised us. We destroyed the pack and headed for a disorderly house in Minsk Moscow District.

Young people were taking the same ‘crystal’ there. They made a solution in a few minutes and shot up. Everyone lied down on the floor or beds after a shot and started murmuring something inadequately. The addicts got up 20 minutes later and made more injections to shoot up again.

“Are you a drug addict?” Ruslan Mirzoyeu asked the flat owner.

“I’m not, it’s just for fun. I’m having a good time. I can shoot up or refuse to do it anytime,” he replied and added that similar parties were often organized in many other flats in the district. “Some people are weak and may go crazy. Like S. from the block of flats situated nearby. He started taking ‘crystal’ at home six months ago and became paranoid. He was constantly running away from someone. He could close himself up in the bathroom for the whole day. B. hid in the toilet and hanged himself there. K. sold his flat for $60 thousand and has already spent almost all the money on ‘crystal’. But I am different; I am only doing it for fun...”

“I used to buy spice from four sellers in my district. But there are dozens of them”

“My son is 20. He became inadequate three months ago. He went out one morning and returned intoxicated 15 minutes later. I asked him: ‘Why have you come back?’ He replied: ‘It’s already night, the work is over...’ Then we understood that something terrible was going on. He is a good guy but... we caught him stealing a gold chain once. Then my wife noticed that 100 thousand roubles had disappeared from her purse.  I found spice in his pockets yesterday,” Vadzim Alyaksandravich, retired riot police officer, showed his shocking find to the Euroradio journalist.

Many people started sharing their family tragedies caused by spice, powders and other synthetic psychotropic agents with Euroradio after we had published a few articles about the issue.

“I talked to the parents of my son’s friends,” Vadzim Alyaksandravich continued. “S.’s mother said that her son had sold their TV-set and his phone... I started interrogating my son. He gave me a few sellers’ phone numbers. I am thinking about the ways out now. The sense of my life is to save my son. I could not imagine that the problem was so global and could affect anyone.”

No one is surprised to hear news about ambulances heading for colleges and schools to save intoxicated teenagers anymore. Sellers can do their job even in educational institutions. Officials and the police are seriously discussing the idea of obligatory medical examination of students in order to find out if they are taking psychotropic agents.

Minsker Pyotr, 19, shared his problem with Euroradio. He is trying to get rid of his addiction and visits the psychologist daily.

“Are there many drug dealers in you district?” we asked the teenager.

“I used to buy spice from four sellers but there are dozens of them in my district. They buy any weed and add reagents to it. Half a gram costs 100 thousands now. The net profit is 50 thousands. This is easy money. Many people could have become rich but they are addicted to spice themselves.”

Pyotr told us how to find a seller. We pretended to be drug addicts and asked the drug dealer if we could buy spice. The seller said yes and sold us the deadly weed right near his house.

Narcologist: “People feel active and aggressive; they suffer from panic attacks, hallucinations and psychosis”

Why are psychotropic agents so destructive? How many Belarusians may be taking spice and powders now?

Euroradio asked the Scientific Research Centre for Mental Health and the Ministry of Health about it.

However, both institutions gave us the same formal replies. They could only present official information about people registered in drug abuse clinics. But the real number of addicts is much bigger. They explained the destructive effect this way: “spice causes physical and psychological addiction”, “spice is several times more destructive than marijuana” and so on. They said the same when spice had just appeared in the drug market five years ago. Having received no essential information, we anonymously talked to a narcologist who works with spice addicts every day.

“The substances have not been studied enough either by domestic or foreign scientists,” the specialist explained. “The way they affect people’s health has only been studied a little. Few addicts ask for help in Belarus. Most of them are comfortably off, they are not poor. It is difficult to comment on the psychical addiction but the psychological addiction is incredibly strong. It results in major depression.” 

Euroradio: Could you describe the influence of these psychotropic agents on people’s health basing on your medical experience? Are such addicts dangerous?

Narcologist: “People feel active and aggressive; they suffer from panic attacks, hallucinations and psychosis. Many of them drive cars and occupy positions requiring a lot of responsibility. However, it is hardly possible to find any traces of spice in people’s blood a day after they took the substances. A check-up that is conducted 3 or 4 days after taking powders cannot reveal anything.”

Euroradio: Up to 150 thousand Belarusians could be shooting up with poppy seed injections at the end of 2013. Can there be as many spice addicts?

Narcologist: “It is possible. However, you cannot count them now. But the problem is really serious. It is difficult to predict its consequences.”

Why haven’t the websites selling psychotropic agents to Belarusians been closed?

Drug dealers sell synthetic psychotropic agents in the form of spice, powders, bath salts, etc. These substances are described as legal and safe on the Internet. Many young people believe it and get addicted.

The ‘legal’ substances used to be openly sold on websites and in social networks. Sellers even gave their phone numbers to buyers and sold drugs personally.

We found 26 drug communities at in September 2011.

The situation is not that uncontrollable now. Reports about detained spice dealers are appearing almost every day.

It is much more difficult to buy herbal smoking blends and powders nowadays. We only found a few communities still working in social networks. However, drugs are sold on Skype now; sellers are not willing to give their phone numbers to clients.

But you can still find a few advertisements written by young people ready to meet you and sell spice.

The main page of a popular Belarusian website selling psychotropic agents has been saying “Sorry, we are not working at the moment” for a few days.

The resource appeared four years ago. Many people wondered why nothing could be done to the major drug group that used that popular website. There were rumours that some of the drug dealers had connections in the top circles.

We sent an inquiry about the impudence of such websites to KGB. Two months had passed but we got no reply.

“The main Internet resources used by drug addicts are blacklisted in the Republic of Belarus,” the Ministry of Internal Affairs told Euroradio. “However, the servers hosting them are situated abroad.”

That is why such websites are a thorn in the side.

How are the police planning to stop 90% of the ‘legal’ drugs supplies?

Synthetic psychotropic agents and their analogues keep being added to the Republic Drug List regularly.

30 new substances were added on the list at the end of January. The addition was followed by mass detentions of drug dealers.

However, Chinese laboratories keep producing new substances using different formulas. New types of spice and euphoria powders are being brought to Belarus. Drug dealers make use of the time needed to add them on the Republican Drug List and sell them without any risk of imprisonment for several months. It is a serious international problem.

The MFA described possible changes to the legislation that may be a crushing blow for drug dealers.

The notion of ‘an analogue to a drug or psychotropic agent’ was introduced earlier. However, not all new psychotropic agents can be classified as analogues.

“The MFA planned to change the Law on Drugs, Psychotropic Agents and their Analogues in 2014. The Ministry is going to add the notion of ‘basic chemical structures’ to it. It will help ban 90% of new psychotropic agents and prevent their distribution much more efficiently,” the Ministry told Euroradio.

Our society is still unaware of the scale of this danger. All addicted Belarusians interviewed by Euroradio complained about easy access to psychotropic agents and low prices for them.

The measures suggested by the police seem even more radical. However, they are probably indispensible to life now.

P.S. Thanks to Ruslan Mirzoyeu and Alex Muz for helping with the article.