A deputy interior minister revealed Monday that more than 1.5 million Soviets use illegal drugs, a figure nearly five times higher than previous official statistics on drug abuse.

The sale of illegal drugs, mostly marijuana and hashish, also contributes $1.8 billion a year to the Soviet Union's flourishing underground economy, Sergeyev Troshin said on the first day of a conference of heads of European anti-drug agencies.He said the problem will worsen as the Soviet Union loosens border restrictions and increases contacts with the West.

Troshin did not give figures on illegal drug use from previous years, and it could not immediately be determined which forms of drug use had increased in the country of 285 million people.

Interior Minister Vadim Bakatin last summer had said there were 220,000 ``drug abusers' and 40,000 ``addicts' in the country.

Soviet authorities once maintained that social problems such as drug abuse and alcoholism were mainly products of capitalist systems, and they did not release such statistics for the Soviet population.

Troshin was elected chairman of the five-day conference, the first time drug agencies from Eastern and Western Europe have come together to combat drug trafficking across the continent.

Representatives from 28 European countries, the United States, Canada and the United Nations were attending the gathering.

``If we take into account the expanding contacts (with the West) and the forthcoming emigration bill which will bring about increased contacts, we must presuppose that the trend will get worse,' Troshin said at news conference.

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