The wealthy young patients at the Kundola medical center, in thick woods a few miles outside of Moscow, live according to a strict regime. Their comfortable suites in the clean, bright clinic in a heavily guarded compound have the air of a gilded cage.

The 24-hour security cordon and camera-monitored perimeter fence exist not to stop them from running away or to protect them from attack, but to defend them against the temptation that brought them here: heroin, which dealers and friends of the addicts have been known to smuggle in or throw over the fence.The Kundola center, where a three-week course of treatment costs at least $4,000 - more than an average Russian earns in a year - is a symptom of the drug craze blighting the children of Russia's richest families.

Dr. Yakov Marshak, a senior physician at the clinic, said the youngest patient they had treated was 12. "She didn't want to be cured. While she was here, she dreamed about drugs. Drugs were the best thing in the world. She was very hostile," he said. "Surprisingly, we managed to get her off drugs for several months."

The fashion for hard drugs among the hedonistic offspring of the rich hit the headlines earlier this week when Liza Berezovskaya, daughter of billionaire politician Boris Berezovsky, was arrested by police in St. Petersburg for possession of cocaine.

Berezovskaya, 27, a Cambridge graduate, artist and buyer of British art, is a member of the "tusov-shchiki" - the "shuffled ones." This is the name given to young people who frequent nightclubs in Moscow and St. Petersburg, switching venues and drugs as fashions change.

Russian newspapers reported that Berezovskaya was held overnight and released on bail after voluntarily surrendering less than a gram of cocaine. Her boyfriend, Ilya Voznesensky, a model and great-grandson of Joseph Stalin, was also detained after police confronted them at a nightclub.

Russia has some of the harshest drug laws in the world. Recently they were tightened still further to criminalize not only dealing and possession but also use, making it possible to imprison anyone who tests positive for drugs or admits to having used drugs. But few believe the tough stance will get more people off drugs.

Statistics are unreliable, but it's believed that heroin users number in the millions and, with needle-sharing rampant, the AIDS virus is spreading rapidly. Drugs appear to have tightened their grip on the bored, Western-educated children of the elite.

Ben Aris, a contributor to a new "Time Out" guide to the Russian capital, wrote in the English-language newspaper Moscow Times: "Moscow met heroin again around 1996. Within six months a big chunk of clubland was hooked, but by mid-1997 heroin usage was petering out. There are still about 2 million junkies in Russia, but at least heroin is not fashionable anymore. Coke is fashionable."

Fashionable or not, nine out of 10 patients at the Kundola center are heroin addicts. Marshak cures them by diet, by an anti-opiate drug, by the 12-step program followed by Alcoholics Anonymous and by yoga exercises.

Marshak also counsels distraught parents who find it difficult to believe that their children are spending their new wealth on drugs.

"I would never have dreamed there were such wealthy people," he said. "One father tried flying his daughter around the world, moving her every three days . . . to cure her. But every time he brought her to a country where she didn't speak the language and didn't know anyone, by evening she would find out where the drugs were."