By MANSUR MIROVALEV, Associated Press

REUTOV, Russia (AP) — Nikolai Leonov was walking through this Moscow suburb with his 2-year-old daughter when the toddler bent down and picked up a bloodied syringe from the grass. “I snatched it away from her a second before she could hurt herself,” Leonov said, still shaken days later.

The computer hardware shop owner is one of millions of Russians horrified by a drug abuse epidemic that has turned Russia into the world’s largest consumer of heroin.

An Associated Press-GfK poll released this month shows that nearly nine in 10 Russians (87 percent) identify drug abuse as at least a “very serious” problem in Russia today, including 55 percent describing the problem as “extremely serious.” The only other issue that worries as many Russians (85 percent) is the corruption that pervades Russian society, business and politics.

 Russians living across the vast country, of all levels of education and income, differ little when it comes to the extent of the drug abuse problem, although 91 percent of urban dwellers see it as a serious problem, compared to 82 percent of rural residents. Unprompted, 10 percent of Russians cite criminality, alcohol or drug abuse as the most important problem facing the country today, on par with the share citing basic needs such as medical care, housing and education.

 Some 2.5 million Russians are addicted to drugs, and 90 percent of them use the heroin that has flooded into Russia from Afghanistan since the late 1990s, according to government statistics. The nation with a population of 143 million consumes 70 tons of Afghan heroin every year, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

 Heroin kills 80 Russians each day — or 30,000 a year — and is “as easy to buy as a Snickers” chocolate bar, Russia’s anti-drug czar Viktor Ivanov said. Meanwhile, new drugs — such as highly addictive synthetic marijuana and a cheap and lethal concoction made of codeine pills known as “crocodile” — compete with heroin and kill thousands more.

 Drug addicts are also the people Russians would least like to have as neighbors, according to the AP-GfK poll. They are seen as more undesirable than alcoholics by a margin of 87 to 77 percent.

 The AP-GfK poll was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications from May 25 to June 10 and was based on in-person interviews with 1,675 randomly selected adults nationwide. The results have a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.

 Leonov lives with his accountant wife and two children in a recently renovated one-bedroom apartment in Reutov, a suburb of Moscow known for its Soviet-era research institutes and defense factories. A statue of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin still stands on the town square. Their biggest problem is the addicts who live in the neighborhood.

 Last year, he saw the body of an addict who apparently had overdosed right next to the playground where his children play. “He was there for a couple of hours before the cops showed up,” Leonov said, pointing at a wooden bench where a bespectacled elderly woman was sitting.

 Leonov claimed that the heroin that killed the addict was sold by a neighbor, who was always dirty and dressed in rags but flaunted a collection of new cell phones. His customers, mostly skinny and chain-smoking youngsters, would leave used syringes on the asphalt and occupy the benches for hours after getting their fix. The neighbor was arrested this spring, but Leonov said little has changed because the addicts apparently found another source of heroin nearby.

 The heroin epidemic caught Russia by surprise.

 Before the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the number of drug addicts who used intravenous injections was extremely low. But the rise of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan opened a floodgate of cheap heroin, which flowed into Russia through the former Soviet republics in Central Asia.

 The arrival of NATO troops in Afghanistan only aggravated the situation, because coalition troops were instructed not to eradicate poppy crops for fear of driving the farmers into the ranks of the Taliban.

 Moscow for years has been urging the U.S. military in Afghanistan to take stronger action against local drug labs and smugglers, but the production of Afghan opium since NATO’s arrival has increased 40-fold, according to anti-drug czar Ivanov.

 Most of Russia’s 2.5 million drug addicts are aged 18 to 39 — a generation of Russians lost to heroin.

 ”The only thing the government can do is save the new generation, because we cannot be saved,” said Valery, a former heroin addict from the Volga River city of Samara. He gave only his first name because his support group does not allow contacts with the media.

 After a meeting with a dozen other recovering drug addicts, he recalled childhood friends who had overdosed, gone to jail or been infected with HIV after sharing contaminated needles. He remembered sharing a needle with a man who he knew had been in jail and thus had a high chance of being infected with HIV.

 ”I needed a fix that badly,” said Valery, now a barrel-chested body builder. “Only God saved me” from getting infected, he said.

 Infection is a major concern for Leonov’s family. In the past decade, the number of HIV infections in Russia has tripled in one of the world’s fastest-growing epidemics of the virus that causes AIDS, according to the United Nations. An estimated four fifths of the 980,000 Russians officially registered as HIV positive became infected through dirty needles.

 When Leonov’s wife, Yelena, was in a maternity hospital to give birth to their daughter, Nastya, she saw another pregnant woman injecting heroin brought in by her husband. Doctors at the hospital told her they would not isolate the woman because she might die or lose her child if she went through withdrawal, she said.

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On the Net: www.ap-gfkpoll.com

 

 

How the AP-GfK poll was conducted

 

The Associated Press-GfK Poll in Russia, on views of drug abuse, was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from May 25-June 10. It is based on a national random sample of 1,675 Russians age 18 and older from different interviewing locations.

 

One hundred cities and districts were initially selected, with probability proportionate to size. Next 200 urban and rural blocks were randomly selected from the 100.

 

Excluded from the block selection were remote and low-populated areas, including some high-mountain terrain, and clusters of minority and ethnic groups whose command of Russian was limited. The lack of official statistics makes it difficult to estimate the amount of non-coverage, but it is probably somewhere between 3 and 6 percent.

 

In the blocks, interviewers were assigned random routes with rules to randomly select a household for the interview. Interviewers then recorded the number of adults in the household and randomly selected an adult for the interview. Interviewers revisited the home if the selected adult was not present.

 

Interviews were conducted in Russian.

 

As done routinely in surveys, results were weighted, or adjusted, to ensure that responses accurately reflect the population’s makeup. The sample was weighted to take into account the sampling method, as well as for age and sex.

 

No more than one time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 2.9 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all adults in Russia were polled.

 

There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.

 Topline results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com and http://surveys.ap.org.

The questions and results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com .

AP-GfK POLL: PARENTS UNCOMFORTABLE WITH YOUTH FOOTBALL

Parents are worried about their children playing football, but most haven’t decided to keep their kids from putting on a helmet and stepping onto the field.

According to an Associated Press-GfK poll, nearly half of parents said they’re not comfortable letting their child play football amid growing uncertainty about the long-term impact of concussions.

In the poll, 44 percent of parents weren’t comfortable with their child playing football. The same percentage was uncomfortable with ice hockey, and 45 percent were uncomfortable with participation in wrestling. Only five percent, though, said they have discouraged their child from playing in the last two years as concern over head injuries has increased at all levels of the game.

The majority of parents said they are comfortable with participation in a host of other sports — including swimming, track and field, basketball, soccer, baseball and softball, among others.

The AP-GfK poll was conducted from July 24-28. It included interviews with 1,044 adults and has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

The parents’ concern comes as several high-profile lawsuits have challenged how concussions have been addressed in pro and college sports. Thousands of pro players sued the NFL and a $675 million settlement that would compensate them for concussion-related claims is pending. A tentative settlement with the NCAA, meanwhile, would create a $70 million fund to test thousands of current and former college athletes for brain trauma.

Youth and high school programs have increased training available for coaches, and helmet companies are releasing new designs with the hope that they reduce the force of impact. But research is murky about whether or not they will be effective.

Participation statistics also show only a slight decline in the overall number of high school students playing football.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, nearly 1.1 million students played 11-man football during the 2012-13 school year. The number was down approximately 10,000 from the year before and more than 20,000 since 2009-08.

Cathy Curtin, a high school rifle coach in northeast Pennsylvania, is one parent who has discouraged her children from playing football in recent years.

Curtin, 52, has gone through concussion-related training for her job, but one issue that concerns her is how much of identifying a head injury relies on the student’s input following a collision. She said her 21-year-old son “would have said anything” to remain in the game while in high school, including hiding symptoms such as dizziness from a trainer or coach.

“Our training staff is good, but you can’t always know,” Curtin said. “You’re basing whether they can play on their say. And they are 16-year-old kids, 17-year-old kids who want more than anything to get out there and play.”

Curtin said her younger son broke his collarbone and leg while playing football as a freshman.

“Nowhere in that time did they check him for a concussion,” Curtin said. “So, if he got hit hard enough to break his collar bone and his leg, then how hard did he hit the ground, too?”

Football wasn’t the only sport Curtin said she was uncomfortable with. She also worries about hockey, wrestling and other high-impact competitions such as gymnastics and cheerleading. She’s encouraged by new advances — such as chin straps that change color when a player may have suffered a concussion — aimed at reducing and identifying head injuries, but she is also skeptical about school districts’ ability to afford new helmets.

JeMare Williams, 43, is no stranger to the possibility of getting a concussion while playing football. He thinks he “probably” suffered from one while in high school in St. Louis.

“I don’t really know, but I remember being hurt, being dizzy,” Williams said. “But during that time, there wasn’t a specific diagnosis like now.”

Now living in Henderson, Nevada, and with 17- and 11-year-old sons who play the game, Williams — an auto mechanic — has the same injury concerns as many parents. That said, he’s comfortable with his sons playing football — or any other sport they choose.

One of the primary reasons for Williams’ comfort level is because of the increased attention paid to head injuries over the last few years. He said coaches are trained more closely now to teach proper tackling techniques, as well as watch players for signs of concussions.

“There’s a lot of publicity on (concussions) now, and I think that makes it better,” Williams said. “So, I’m not as worried now.”


AP-GfK Poll: Most say the US is heading the wrong way, hope for new direction come November

By JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress has checked out, and the American people have noticed.

Three-quarters of Americans doubt the federal government will address the important problems facing the country this year, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

All told, only 28 percent of Americans think the nation is heading in the right direction, the lowest level in August of an election year since 2008. It’s about on par with 2006, when Democrats took control of the U.S. House amid a backlash to the Iraq war.

This time around, it’s not clear whether either party will benefit from the disaffection.

One-third say they hope the Republicans take control of Congress outright this fall — which the GOP can accomplish with a net gain of six seats in the U.S. Senate while holding the U.S. House. The same share want to see Democrats lead Congress — a far less likely possibility.

The final third? They say it just doesn’t matter who takes control of Congress.

Overall, just 13 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress overall is handling its job.

There are some signs in the new poll that Republicans have gained ground as the height of the campaign approaches. In May, they trailed Democrats a bit on who ought to control Congress. Partisans are about equally likely to say they’d like to see their own in charge of Congress after November 4, with about three-quarters in each party saying they hope their side winds up in control. Democrats are a bit less apt to say they want their own party to win than they were in May, 74 percent in the new poll compared with 80 percent then.

And the GOP now holds narrow advantages over Democrats on handling an array of top issues, including the economy, immigration and the federal budget.

But neither party is trusted much to manage the federal government, with 27 percent having faith in the GOP to 24 percent in Democrats. More people, 31 percent, say they trust neither party to run the federal government.

Fewer people have confidence in the federal government’s ability to make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country in 2014 than at the start of the year, with 74 percent saying they have little or no confidence. That’s a slight change from the 70 percent who said so in a December AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey. That shift in confidence stems from a small drop-off among Democrats. While 56 percent lacked confidence in December, 62 percent say the same now.

Overall, few express faith in those currently on Capitol Hill. Just 36 percent say they’d like to see their own member of Congress re-elected, 62 percent say they want someone else to win this November. So far, just three House incumbents have been ousted in primaries this year, and none in the Senate. The Congressional approval rating, 13 percent in the new poll, lags behind President Barack Obama’s 40 percent.

Though the economy pushed the nation’s “right direction” figures to historic lows in the fall of 2008, that does not seem to be the culprit in the new poll. About a third (35 percent) say the economy is in good shape, about the same as in May, and 58 percent say the economy has stayed about the same in the past month.

The decline in optimism about the country’s path in the new poll seems to mirror those in October 2013 and August 2011, when congressional inaction led to the threat of a government shutdown in 2011 and a partial one in 2013. Among Democrats, the share saying the nation is heading in the right direction dipped 11 points since May, to 49 percent, while among independents, it’s down slightly to 23 percent. Among Republicans, the 9 percent saying the country is heading the right way is similar to May. The October 2013 and August 2011 declines in right direction were also driven by sharp drops among Democrats and independents.

Among those who say they are highly likely to vote this fall, just 8 percent say they approve of the way Congress is handling its job, though 43 percent would like to see their member of Congress re-elected, a bit higher than among all adults. Republicans have an edge among this group as the party more preferred to control Congress, 43 percent to 34 percent, with 23 percent saying it doesn’t matter.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents. It is larger for subgroups.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com