By Alexei Anishchuk
IRKUTSK, Russia (Reuters) - Russia has failed to make progress in fighting a growing drug epidemic that cuts economic growth by up to three percent every year, President Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday.
Russia has the world's third-largest heroin abuse rate and accounts for a third of all heroin deaths worldwide, feeding into a demographic disaster that experts say will drain one million people from the workforce every year until 2017.
"In spite of the fact that heightened attention is given to this topic ... changes for better have been very, very few," Medvedev told senior federal and regional officials meeting in the Siberian city of Irkutsk.
The U.N.'s World Health Organization says heroin use has fueled Russia's HIV/AIDS epidemic, one of the fastest growing in the world.
But health workers criticize Moscow for refusing to finance harm reduction programs, like needle exchanges, or legalize the replacement drug methadone.
Medvedev said children as young as 11 were using drugs and it might be necessary to expand drug testing in schools and strengthen other programs.
"There may be reason to think about introducing separate courses in educational programs, especially in disadvantaged areas and those where there is a tendency toward drug use," he said.
The Geneva-based International Aids Society (IAS) has warned that the number of new HIV infections in Russia is likely to grow between 5 and 10 percent a year unless the government takes new measures.
High rates of heavy smoking, alcoholism, pollution, poverty, together with a fall in birth rates in the years after the fall of Communism, underpin U.N. projections that the population will shrink to 116 million by 2050 from 143 million in 2010.
(Writing by Thomas Grove, editing by Andrew Heavens)