Presentations (Communicative Events)

The Opium War at the "Roof of the World": The Administration of Addiction in Soviet Badakhshan

Latypov, Alisher

Many Soviet commentators on narcotic drugs in Central Asia have explained the "elimination" of drug addiction in early Soviet Tajikistan in the following ways: in the absence of drug treatment facilities in Tajikistan drug users were treated in neighbouring republics; drug use prevention strategies were successfully implemented through the so-called red teahouses functioning as cultural and sanitary enlightenment clubs. However, red teahouses had entirely failed to address narcotic drug use in early Soviet Tajikistan, and until the late 1930s most of them had operated as ordinary commercial facilities without delivering the "red-coloured" propaganda, "cultural enlightenment" activities, and health education. Furthermore, the actual situation with regard to drug treatment in Tajikistan in the 1920s and 1930s was far more complex and differed dramatically from how it was presented by Soviet physicians, with few Tajik drug users ever receiving treatment both inside and outside the country. This raises a question of vital importance for our understanding of the administration of addiction in Soviet Tajikistan. If the overwhelming majority of drug users were left untreated and if red teahouses did not prevent the consumption of narcotics by the local population, how, in fact, did the Soviet authorities "eliminate" drug addiction in early Soviet Tajikistan? A search for the answer to this question in a wide range of archival documentation and medical records from Tajik psychiatric hospitals reveals a tragic opium war that took place in Soviet Badakhshan and ended with deaths and repressions during Stalin's Great Terror in 1936-1939. It had profound and far-reaching effects in terms of driving opiate users of the Soviet Pamirs deep underground and placing many of them in prisons, so that medical workers could neither see nor hear about them for several subsequent decades.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Global Health Research Center of Central Asia
Columbia University
Published Here
October 3, 2011


First Annual Conference, Culture, Religion, and Communications Unit of the Global Health Research Center of Central Asia, "Healing Paradigms and the Politics of Health in Central Asia," Columbia University, April 8, 2011.