Toll rising from drug users in Russian-annexed Crimea

Flowers are placed near a sign at the AIDS Conference in Melbourne on July 22, 2014 as a memorial for those killed onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 after it crashed in east UkraineRussia's annexation of Crimea has led to a surge in deaths among intravenous drug users, who no longer have access to vital therapy, specialists said at the world AIDS forum on Thursday. Michel Kazatchkine, former head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, and now the UN's AIDS envoy for eastern Europe, told AFP he was "very concerned" and had heard of "20 documented deaths, possibly more." Under Ukrainian rule, Crimea provided intravenous drug users with access to methadone, a safer substitute for heroin, and to buprenorphine, a drug used to ease dependence. Endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), this opioid substitution therapy (OST) helps to wean addicts off heroin and to halt the spread of HIV through prostitution and shared syringes, according to campaigners.

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