MOSCOW—Several policemen serving in the drugs control department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs have been arrested for allegedly selling a bad batch of a psychotropic drug that has killed several of their clients.
Victims of the cops’ alleged merchandise are believed to include at least two school children who were hospitalized. One of the kids reportedly died along with at least three other people.
Siberia has been suffering from an addiction to synthetic drugs—collectively known as “bath salts”—for years but now the state’s drugs control agency appears to be getting in on the act. The drug seized in this instance may have been a contaminated batch of mephedrone, sometimes known as “Meow Meow.”
Earlier this month, local newspapers warned there was a new batch of drugs threatening lives in the wealthy Siberian city of Surgut, which is known as the Russian oil capital. “One dose of it kills,” the reports said.
It took local investigators almost two weeks to find an alleged drug kingpin in their own ranks. The head of the regional drugs control department, Pavel Alekseyev, is accused of setting up his own gang of drug dealers.
“Officer Alekseyev, his colleague, and his 32-year-old lover are suspected of selling the mysterious drug that has caused at least three deaths,” Dmitry Zavyalov, a local investigative reporter at Ura.ru told The Daily Beast.
Investigators said they discovered a couple of dozen doses of the deadly drug waiting to be sold to Surgut’s citizens by Alekseyev and his gang.
Drugs have grown more expensive and more popular during the pandemic, experts said. Local investigative reporters suspect the deadly drug might have been a bad batch of mephedrone, which has seen its price on the market in Surgut increase from $26 per dose last year to $66 this fall. Local website Surgut Inform reported that the deadly version of the drug was “cooked” at a private apartment.
It is not the first time Surgut has seen a drug control officer caught dealing drugs: Yevgeny Ageyev was arrested for selling hashish last December along with his partners, Artyom Kryukov and Aidar Migranov. The head of Surgut’s Drugs Control agency, Dmitry Nefedov, was subsequently fired in January.
Recent years have seen a surge in the sale of drugs that mimic the effects of amphetamines, such as mephedrone or “Meow Meow,” “Magic,” “Mef” or “Spice.” In the U.S., they are collectively known as “bath salts.” Mephedrone was banned by the Obama administration in 2012.
Five years ago, the volume of synthetic drugs sold in Russia surpassed that of marijuana. The drugs which are available on the Dark Web are proving particularly popular in Moscow, Siberia, the Ural region, and the Far East. “There is as much ‘salt’ in Siberia as snow,” a taxi driver once told the Daily Beast in Irkutsk. Drug dealers use sex workers and children to sell “salts” for less than $10 per dose.
Russian officials have been appealing to China, to prevent the illegal export of drugs or ingredients used to make the substances, which are in widespread use among school children aged between 13 and 16 all across Russia. “Many users are in the 8th and 9th grades,” Gennady Udovichenko, a senior official at the national agency controlling drugs, said in an interview with the newspaper Kommersant. “Our psychiatric clinics are full of these teenagers.”
In spite of all diplomatic efforts, China has been exporting massive volumes of the chemicals needed to manufacture the drugs to Russia for the past decade. Labs producing tons of “bath salts,” which end up in the United States, are produced in Russia using Chinese chemicals.
Another bad batch of the drugs caused an outbreak of poisoning in Surgut in 2014; six people died and more than 200 were hospitalized with intoxication. “That drug in Surgut had elements of a chemical weapon, which in wartime can be used against populations; we were very concerned,” Yuriy Krupnov, an adviser for Victor Ivanov, ex-director of the Federal Drug Control Service, told The Daily Beast.
In 2016, President Vladimir Putin closed down Ivanov’s agency, which had the authority to catch organized narcotic groups and associations. Krupnov regrets what happened: “Tons of dangerous synthetic drugs arrive in Russia every year, one kilo can threaten lives of dozens,” he said. “But instead of chasing small volumes of dangerous drugs around apartments, Russia needs to stop big volumes at the border, we need cyber control to put the end to selling drugs on Dark Web, and for that we need a powerful self-sufficient security service.”