By Daniel Wolfe
“Please let the methadone through. People are dying here,” pleads Olga from Luhansk in a recent video produced by Igor Kuzmenko of the Eurasian Network of People who use Drugs. Olga is one of about a thousand patients in the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine who recently learned that their daily addiction treatment medicine would be cut off or reduced to substandard doses, forcing them to undergo painful withdrawal or return to street drugs.
It was over the Donbass that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down one year ago, killing 298. But for patients in need of medicine here, political gamesmanship is proving more deadly than missile fire.
The conflict between the Ukrainian government and Russian-supported separatists threatens the lives of civilian patients who have been cut off, or soon will be, from lifesaving medicines. In addition to those on methadone, 8,000 patients with HIV are now watching their treatment, and hope for survival, run out. HIV treatments for many in the Donbass will last only a few weeks more, until mid-August.
The Ukrainian government has washed its hands of responsibility for areas it no longer controls, cutting off funds for hospitals and telling patients to travel to government territory for medicine—an impractical and cynical suggestion. Authorities in the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Luhansk, a separatist-controlled area, have said that they would follow the Russian approach and ban methadone; nine patients have reportedly already killed themselves in despair.
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