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    MOSCOW, February 19, 2004 (RIA Novosti) - At a press conference on Thursday the deputy chairman of the State Narcotics Control, Alexander Mikhailov, said that based on the forecasts of a number of international organizations, the number of people addicted to drugs in Russia may rise to 35 million in 10 years.

    Currently, according to expert estimates, there are 4 million people addicted to drugs in Russia. In the second half of 2003 alone, the State Narcotics Control seized 11 metric tons of narcotics and filed 14,000 criminal cases, 1,500 of which have already been sent to court, Mr. Mikhailov said.

    Mr. Mikhailov said in 2004 the flow of narcotics into Russia is not expected to decrease, especially from Afghanistan.

    "International organized criminal groups are conducting a drug war against Russia," he emphasized.

    According to the data the State Drug Control, in the last 10 years the number of people addicted to drugs in Russia has increased by nine times. In Russia, 70,000 people die from drug abuse every year.

    Mr. Mikhailov said that the punishments for drug trafficking were often unjustifiably soft.

    On March 12, amendments to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, which stiffen the punishment for drug related crimes, will come into force. It provides for a prison sentence of up to 20 years for serious crimes. Nevertheless, a number of articles still require correction, Mr. Mikhailov said.

    Mikhailov also reported that in law enforcement agencies there are complications in the fight with ethnic criminal groups that specialize in selling and trafficking drugs. At present in Russia, specialists are not prepared in the fight with ethnic criminals, "and without language proficiency, to speak about the successes in this sphere is not possible," added Mr. Mikhailov.

    According to him, in Russia several ethnic groups, the largest of which are Gypsies and Tajiks, are involved in the drug trade.

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