The number of people afflicted with alcoholism in St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region has decreased twofold over the past five years, chief regional drug abuse expert Yevgeny Krupitsky said on Wednesday.
In 2003-2008, the number of patients suffering from alcoholism officially registered in St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region decreased by 25 percent, while the alcoholism incidence rate dropped twofold.
Krupitsky denied assertions that these statistics may not reflect the actual situation where patients supply do not go to the doctor with their problem. He said the number of alcohol psychoses has also decreased twofold in 2003-2008, thus supporting the reported tendency.
However the overall situation in the country remains complex. "The average statistical man in our country is a drunkard," the head of a department at the Moscow Research Institute of Psychiatry, Alexander Nemtsov, said.
He said Russians drink about 15 litres of pure alcohol a year, 80 percent of which are hard liquor.
Nemtsov believes that the problem can be effectively dealt with only at the federal level and only by means of a well-considered and consistent system of measures.
Earlier, President Dmitry Medvedev called for measures designed to reduce alcohol consumption in Russia, primarily among young people.
"The first thing we should do is stop the growing consumption of alcohol among young people," Medvedev said.
"The habit of drinking with and without a reason may lead to heavy alcohol addiction in a rather short time," the president said.
Medvedev cited experts as saying that young people consume an increasingly growing amount of low-alcohol drinks and beer.
"According to the data we have, one third of young men and almost 20 percent of young women use such drinks daily or every other day," he said.
He also believes it necessary "to bring order to the work of retail networks and points of sale and strengthen responsibility for selling alcohol to minors. Selling alcohol to minors is inadmissible," he said.
"The sale of alcohol to people under the age of 18 is banned in Russia now as it has always been. It's no secret that this requirement is often ignored, which it was not in Soviet times," the president noted.
He said, "There are more and more suggestions to change the regulation of the production and sale of beer and so-called low-alcohol drinks so as to make them subject to the general principles of regulation and restrictions applicable to strong drinks."
According to Medvedev, "This may entail various consequences. They will have to be calculated, but an effective solution has to be found."
This concerns a ban on the sale of alcohol near schools, recreational centres, sport facilities, requirements applicable to the trade premises where they can be sold, and restrictions on alcohol advertising.
"I think these suggestions are very serious and need to be studied most thoroughly and discussed in detail," the president said.
Medvedev said that alcoholism and drug addiction should be fought not by bans but by comprehensive measures.
"The problem cannot be solved with the help of foolish bans. We have already tried that," Medvedev said.
"It can be solved only by a set of measures," he added.
According to the president, it is necessary to solve a whole range of issues from raising people's incomes to creating leisure opportunities so that people could occupy themselves rather than "go to a store, buy a bottle and, sitting red-eyed in the kitchen, get glued to the TV screen," Medvedev said.
The president said he would convene a meeting of the State Council to address this problem.
He regretted that over 40 percent of young people in Russia smoke. "This means that almost half of the people have made a conscience choice to destroy their own health," he said.
Drinking is an even worse problem, the president went on to say. According to statistics, 18 litres of pure alcohol is consumed in Russia per person a year. "This is about 50 bottles of vodka for each resident of the country, including infants," Medvedev said.
"This is a monstrous figure. After 9-10 litres, gene pool problems arise, and degradation begins," he added.
"We should use all kinds of methods in order to change our attitude towards this dramatically. Being tough is not about drinking or smoking. Being tough is when one communicates with others, gets an emotional stress and when there is no need to use alcohol or drugs in order to achieve that state," the president said.
He stressed that the promotion of sports would be a very important contribution to these efforts.
The Russian government has suggested increasing fines for drinking alcohol in public places ten times from the current level of 300-500 roubles.
The amendments say that "drinking alcohol and alcohol-containing products: in the streets, at the stadiums, in the parks, on public transport and in other public places, except for public catering facilities where the sale of alcohol is allowed, will be penalised by a fine of 1,000 to 5,000 roubles."
The level of alcohol abuse in Russia is among the highest in the world. Russia holds the lead in terms of alcohol consumption with 18 litres per person a year.
Specialists are particularly worried by the spread of alcohol addiction among teenagers. Medics believe that television advertising, the availability of beer and alcohol cocktails lead to early consumption of alcohol. As a result, teenagers drink more, switching to harder liquor. This problem is especially acute in asocial families where parents abuse alcohol. Experts believe that social assistance agencies should play a bigger role in such situations.
Of three million alcohol and drug addicts, 1.3 percent abuse toxic substances, 16 percent drugs, and 82.7 percent alcohol. These are official data released by specialised institutions of the Ministry of Health and Social Development.
The ministry has drafted a concept for a governmental policy aimed at reducing alcoholism in Russia.
Interested ministries and agencies are studying the draft concept, which calls for "limiting the consumption of alcohol, keeping bad quality alcohol away from the market, setting up a comprehensive system for the prevention of alcohol abuse, and promoting a healthy lifestyle".
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