Pro-Kremlin groups such as Young Russia are taking justice into their own hands, going after people they believe to be dealing the synthetic drug known as "spice."
The vigilantes, who call themselves the Young Anti-Drugs Special Forces, are operating with the public and possibly the Kremlin's approval, the Associated Press reported.
The AP notes that the gangs are "stirring concerns about President Vladimir Putin's perceived tolerance for extralegal actions against forces considered harmful to the regime or to public order."
The drug, spice, is made of herbs coated in chemicals which replicate the effects of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine. There are several permutations of the synthetic drug, as listed by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
"Smoking mixtures are usually sold in metal-foil sachets, typically containing 3 grams of dried vegetable matter to which one or more of the cannabinoids have been added," the center notes.
There are no reliable figures available on usage in Russia, but officials and anti-drug advocates estimate millions have used the drug in various forms.
The leader of one of the vigilante groups, Alexei Grunichev, said, "We're walking on the edge, but you have to understand that fighting drugs is a serious thing."
"We also understand our guilt for what we do, but I think that what we do is right and we will fight, keep fighting using these methods until law enforcement agencies, authorities can put everything under control."
Earlier in 2013, the Russian government abandoned an agreement with the United States on fighting the drugs trade. Russia has also been dealing with a huge heroin abuse problem, the BBC notes, a situation worsened by the country's closeness to drug-trafficking routes.
Estimates from Russia's drug control agency say there are about five million drug users in the country. Drug deaths are not tracked carefully, but there are an estimated 100,000 deaths each year among 15 to 30-year-olds, the age group with the heaviest drug use.
This video from RT shows a vigilante group's attack on suspected dealers:
[Warning: Contents may be disturbing to some viewers]