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Statistics on substance abuse among Ukraine’s youth are especially inaccurate. Most often, officials become aware of a youth’s addiction only after he has been reprimanded by police. Rarely have parents taken the initiative to seek appropriate treatment for their children.

“The situation is getting worse,” says Dr. Kabanchyk, who listed the prevalence of violence in mass media, the world’s economic crises and the emigration of women as primary factors in the rise of substance abuse in Ukraine. The emigration of women serving as guest workers abroad “is certainly the main reason for the rise in the use of drugs among youth,” she adds.

“They’re given ‘easy’ money from their mothers and no one controls how they spend it. When their parents return from abroad, if it is not too late, they arrange for treatment for their children and take them away later to Spain, Italy, Portugal or Greece.”

Dr. Kabanchyk believes substance abuse in Ukraine has taken on a pandemic character in recent decades. She has noticed an increase in the number of cases of delirium tremens among young people. The illness is most often associated with alcohol poisoning among veteran alcoholics. But these days, the symptom has become common among young adults. Part of the reason is the widespread consumption of poor quality alcohol. During Soviet times, alcohol was cheaper, but of higher quality.

Despite the magnitude of the problem, neither the national nor local government has allocated enough funds to address it. Nowhere in Lviv Oblast, for instance, is equipment available to conduct the tests that identify chronic alcoholism and drug addiction in patients. Hospitals simply cannot afford the $59,000 expense. Doctors often must diagnose comatose addicts by superficial examination alone.

Alcoholism is not new in Ukraine, especially in its rural communities, where it has long plagued family life. For centuries, the elite of the various ruling empires and regimes (e.g., Poland, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Soviet Russia) encouraged drinking among Ukraine’s rural poor to better subjugate them. A well-known Ukrainian proverb speaks to this legacy of oppression: “a tipsy ear does not hear the clanking of shackles.”

Today, alcoholism affects rural and urban populations equally. Similarly, drug use once disproportionately impacted Ukraine’s urban areas, but it is now a major problem in rural communities, too. In the villages surrounding Lviv, drug use is a serious problem among youth. Usually, they begin using narcotics derived from poppies, then marijuana and then more serious substances. Drug use is particularly severe in central and eastern Ukraine, where narcotics are trafficked across the nearby border with Russia and are thus more readily available to local communities.

Despite more than four decades of suppression, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has long taken on substance abuse — especially alcohol — as a social ill. As early as the 1930’s, parishes staged plays and held workshops addressing alcohol’s dangers. February became a month of alcohol abstinence, in part because the number of fatal cases of alcohol-related hypothermia spiked in February. And today, at the center of many villages, “crosses of sobriety” have been erected to remind residents to drink with moderation.

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Tags: Ukraine Health Care Socioreligious programs Alcoholism