Russia seizes ‘wrongly labelled’ UN methadone as contraband drugs

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russian customs authorities have seized a consignment of methadone bound for the United Nation’s (UN) HIV prevention programme in Tajikistan as contraband drugs due to a labelling misunderstanding, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said yesterday.

The mix-up happened earlier this month when the cargo of methadone – which is used worldwide in HIV prevention programmes around the world but is banned in Russia – was seized at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport while in transit from Germany.

Russia’s customs service announced it had seized RUB5.8 billion (USD93,000) worth of methadone in a major swoop and the judicial authorities opened a criminal investigation into drug smuggling “on a large scale”.

But in an embarrassing confusion, the UNDP said that the cargo had in fact been destined for battling the spread of HIV in Tajikistan, the poorest country in ex-Soviet Central Asia.

Valuing the shipment at USD79,310, the UNDP said in a statement that the methadone represented “a life-saving treatment for people who inject drugs”.

“It was intercepted in Moscow after being wrongly labelled. UNDP is in touch with authorities in Russia to resolve this matter and is available to answer their questions,” it said in a statement issued in Dushanbe.

The Russian customs authorities said that the 2,000 vials of methadone, which are now in storage at Vnukovo, had not been declared by the transporter.

Methadone is an addictive opioid but is not taken via injection and is used in supervised programmes for drug users to avoid injections and thus eliminate the risk of contracting the HIV virus from contami-nated syringes.