More than 130,000 people in the Soviet Union are regular drug users and 51,000 of them are seriously ill, according to police figures reported in the Communist Party newspaper Pravda.
Pravda quoted Vitaly Boyarov, deputy head of the Soviet customs board, as saying the Soviet Union would have to fight drug use at home before success could be achieved in the international fight against narcotics trafficking."While these figures represent a small percentage against the overall population and cannot be compared to the numbers in a whole host of other 'drug-sick' countries, we consider the problem acute," Boyarov said.
Police figures a year ago showed about 120,000 Soviet drug users, a sharp increase from 75,000 in 1984. Soviet press reports say the rise, although small, is causing concern.
Boyarov noted that a law passed in 1987 outlawed cultivation of opium poppies or hemp but described the Soviet climate as ideal for drug production from plants grown in the wild.
"We face the task of creating a full system of control over all possible drug-trafficking routes, by sea, road, rail or through the post," he said, adding this would be impossible without international cooperation.
Boyarov cited as a major success a Soviet-British operation last April involving a shipment from Afghanistan to Britain through the Soviet Union of 3.5 tons of cannabis resin packed in two containers of liquorice.
Soviet officials identified the shipment and allowed it to continue to the English port of Tilbury where British officials removed drugs with a street value of $17 million. The officials followed the containers to a warehouse at a disused U.S. Air Force base where they arrested five people.