Policing drug users in Russia: risk, fear, and structural violence. Academic Article uri icon


  • We undertook qualitative interviews with 209 injecting drug users (IDUs) (primarily heroin) in three Russian cities: Moscow, Barnaul, and Volgograd. We explored IDU's accounts of HIV and health risk. Policing practices and how these violate health and self, emerged as a primary theme. Findings show that policing practices violate health and rights directly, but also indirectly, through the reproduction of social suffering. Extrajudicial policing practices produce fear and terror in the day-to-day lives of drug injectors, and ranged from the mundane (arrest without legal justification; the planting of evidence to expedite arrest or detainment; and the extortion of money or drugs for police gain) to the extreme (physical violence as a means of facilitating "confession" and as an act of "moral" punishment without legal cause or rationale; the use of methods of "torture"; and rape). We identify the concept of police bespredel-living with the sense that there are "no limits" to police power-as a key to perpetuating fear and terror, internalized stigma, and a sense of fatalist risk acceptance. Police besprediel is analyzed as a form of structural violence, contributing to "oppression illness." Yet, we also identify cases of resistance to such oppression, characterized by strategies to preserve dignity and hope. We identify hope for change as a resource of risk reduction as well as escape, if only temporarily, from the pervasiveness of social suffering. Future drug use(r)-related policies, and the state responses they sponsor, should set out to promote public health while protecting human rights, hope, and dignity.

publication date

  • May 2010