Anti-drugs activist asks Putin for help

  • 2002-04-11
  • Sergei Stepanov

A former morphine addict turned activist from the drug-torn region in northeastern Estonia has appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a desperate attempt to help six drug addicts who hold Russian citizenship.

Aleksander Laanemann has written a letter to Putin asking for 9,000 rubles ($320) to help with medical and travel expenses for the six people, who live near the city of Narva.

"I know this letter will not reach you, but still I am writing it," he wrote in a letter mailed March 14.

Laanemann is a trained doctor who used to work in the Russian city of Ivangorod, just across the border from Narva. In the Soviet era he became addicted to morphine and served a prison sentence for illegally possessing the drug.

He says he understands the life of an addict.

As an activist fighting for better treatment for addicts, Laanemann became acquainted with a 17-year-old addict who was HIV-positive. Her plight convinced him to write the letter.

"I am 100 percent sure her life can be prolonged for 10 to 15 years with the help of appropriate treatment," he wrote. "She is a child yet."

The girl, who requested to remain anonymous, said she didn't know what to expect from the letter.

"I guess I need it for treatment," she said, shrugging off a question about whether she thought the Russian president would provide any money.

Laanemann requested the money to cover counseling, travel and medical expenses.

He says none of them have medical insurance and are not covered by the Estonian government because they are not citizens. Even a bus trip to Narva is too expensive for them.

Laanemann, an Estonian citizen, said he was aware that Russia had enough to do to keep up with the skyrocketing number of addicts living in Russia.

"But these are also Russian citizens," he said. "We don't expect much help from the Estonian state. Maybe we could find help there (in Russia)."

Laanemann doubts the letter will get any further than a secretary's desk in the Kremlin.

But he says Russian politicians could get some political mileage out of helping an Estonian help Russian citizens living in Estonia.

"Most of the addicts in Narva are ethnic Russians," he said.

But getting the money now is less important than establishing new contacts in Russia, where there are some revolutionary methods of treating drug addicts and HIV-positive people, says Laanemann. Besides, Russian medicine for treating addicts is much cheaper.

Laanemann has recently established a non-governmental organization to help addicts recover. He has so far received 32,000 kroons ($1,880) in funding, all from Estonia's Council on Gambling Taxation.