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Ukraine Rehab: Drug Treatment in Wartime

The Ukraine war has caused a shortage of doctors, open pharmacies, treatment clinics and addiction-medication supplies.

As residents flee by the hundreds of thousands, Ukraine’s drug-addicted citizens are unable to get anti-opioid medications. Long lines are forming outside the nation’s few active pharmacies while many Ukrainians suffer withdrawal symptoms with no help or guidance.

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Drug Use Among the Ukraine Civilian Population

According to a 2020 report on the alcohol and drug situation in Ukraine, there were 421 deaths caused by psychoactive drugs in 2019, more than double the 2017 figure (202). Opioids accounted for 67% of these deaths. In a nation of 28.2 million permanent residents, 18.6 million syringes were distributed among drug users. 

Ukraine has been plagued by substance abuse since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Over the ensuing 15-year timeframe, each year saw a 10-12% increase in the number of drug-dependent individuals. 

The exodus of Ukrainians to neighboring countries began long before the Russian invasion. Ukraine boasted a population of 52 million in 1993. By the end of 2016, it had seen a net 18 percent drop with roughly one million citizens fleeing the country annually. This has drained the nation’s labor force, including the health care sector. 

As of 2016, 33% of the nation’s population was already eager to migrate. In Wroclaw, a city in western Poland, a third of the population speaks Ukrainian. 

Since the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, the number of nationals living in Poland has doubled. Poland — a nation that received roughly 1.4 million Ukrainians in the aftermath of the 2014 coup — has taken in 1,916,445 refugees as of March 16. 

Ukraine’s Public Health Facilities

On the Ukraine streets, drug-addicted citizens are directly impacted by the loss of doctors and open treatment clinics. One subject, identified by Al Jazeera as Serhiy, said he went to five pharmacies to get methadone but none of them were open. When he finally found an open pharmacy, it had a queue of more than 200 people

In Kyiv, there were more than 45 fee-based treatment centers just before the war. The typical center served 30-70 patients each day with anti-opioid prescriptions. While doctors evacuate the nation in doves, the pharmacies that remain active are only open for three hours per day due to curfew. 

Wartime restrictions have cut the supply of vital anti-addiction medications like methadone and buprenorphine. In Kyiv, a city with 1,300 methadone patients, supplies of the drug are in short supply. In the northeast city of Kharkiv, supplies of both drugs have completely disappeared.

The Ukraine drug epidemic is expected to surge both during and after the war due to stress and tragedy. According to Syracuse addiction studies professor Dessa Bergen-Cico, alcohol and drug abuse increase during wartime because civil order and law enforcement collapse within war zones. Also, the stresses of war cause traumatized civilians and soldiers to seek out the euphoric effects of certain drugs. 

War in Ukraine: Conflict With Russia

Ukraine has been in turmoil since the US-backed ousting of democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. The US, which wanted more influence on Ukraine, objected to his openness to trade with Russia and his rejection of IMF loans. 

Ukraine was divided by pro-European western regions and pro-Russian eastern regions like Lugansk and Donetsk. Violent protests in Kyiv, largely led by the far-right Svoboda party, overpowered police and forced Yanukovych to flee the country.

In Lugansk and Donetsk, a widespread separatist movement wished to join Russia. Putin rejected this, urging the two regions to come to a peace deal with Ukraine. This never came to pass. In the eight years leading up to February 2022, the Ukraine military killed more than 14,000 people in the eastern regions.

In the weeks leading up to the invasion, US officials claimed Russia was about to invade Ukraine: a claim denied by Russian officials. When Russia moved its troops away from the Ukraine border, the Ukrainian military started dropping bombs on Lugansk and Donetsk. At that point, Putin finally recognized them as countries and moved in to protect them.

The World Health Organization and the International Monetary Fund

As Russian forces besiege health centers like the Chernihiv children’s hospital, vital drugs remain in low supply. The World Health Organization notes that the nation’s medical oxygen supplies are dangerously low. This makes it difficult to distribute medical care as needed, especially as IT systems also take a hit.

On March 4, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) executive board met to discuss the economic impact of the Russian-Ukraine war. On March 10, the IMF approved emergency financing of $1.4 billion.

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