Iran faces worsening drug addiction problem
Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said drug smugglers accounted for 80% of executions.
A scourge. An Iranian member of the anti-drug police stands guard as tonnes of drugs recovered from traffickers are destroyed in the north-eastern city of Mashhad. (AFP)
2017/07/09 Issue: 114 Page: 20
The Arab Weekly
Washington - The “World Drug Report 2017” of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said global opium production jumped by one-third in 2016, due largely to a 43% rise in Afghanistan, which supplies 85% of the world’s non-pharmaceutical grade poppies.
“Opioids were the most harmful drug type and accounted for 70% of the negative health impact associated with drug use disorders worldwide,” the UNODC reported.
The US overthrow of the Taliban in 2002 had the unexpected outcome of leading to an increase in opium production. The Taliban had worked with the UN to curb poppy farming but, as it has regained control of much of Afghanistan, the Taliban has used poppies to fund its war against the Kabul regime and, the United National said, derives half its income from drugs.
Production rocketed from 185 tonnes a year in 2001, the last year of Taliban rule, to 4,800-6,000 tonnes in 2016. Most is sold for heroin production in Europe and Russia but the number of addicts in Afghanistan reached 3 million in 2015, up from 1 million in 2010.
The growth also affects countries of transit, including the Caucuses and the Balkans. Sharing a 900km border with Afghanistan, Iran faces a growing problem of addiction. The country’s Drug Control Organisation (DGO) recently said there were 2.8 million people in an 80 million population “regularly consuming drugs,” up from 1.3 million in 2011. DGO spokesman Parviz Afshar told the ISNA news agency that opium makes up 67% of consumption, with marijuana and its derivatives 12% and methamphetamine 8%.
The IRNA news agency quoted Saeed Safatian, head of a drugs working group in the state’s Expediency Council, admitting the real figures could be higher as many addicts were too ashamed to admit their problem.
A lack of consistency in categorisation also makes it hard to trace the increase. In “Drugs, Deviancy and Democracy in Iran,” a study published in 2011, Janne Bjerre Christensen, an anthropologist at the University of Copenhagen, estimated 3.5 million-4 million drug users in Iran — fully 5% of the country population, which was then approximately 70 million.
Iran’s efforts to combat smuggling reveal the scale of the problem, with smugglers along the Afghan and Pakistani borders armed with heavy weapons including anti-aircraft guns. Christensen said that 3,500 Iranian police officers had been killed fighting smugglers since 1979, not counting customs officers and soldiers. Iranian media recently quoted a figure of 4,000 police officers killed.
Iran has adopted draconian punishments. Amnesty International said more than 567 people were executed in 2016, the world’s second highest number of judicial executions after China, where numbers are a classified secret. In 2014, Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said drug smugglers accounted for 80% of executions, which he defended on grounds that “generally, they are armed and violent people who have even committed rape.”
Attempting to seal Iran’s eastern provinces, authorities spent $700 million on fences. However, in Sistan-Baluchestan province especially, years of drought have made smuggling attractive to impoverished farmers, while extremist Sunni political groups add to a growing sense of lawlessness.
Authorities for a long time blamed the West for fuelling demand for narcotics, reinforcing notions held by some clerics of Western moral decline. Such arguments do not take into account the level of addiction among veterans from the war of 1980-88 with Iraq, however, and drug use in Iran is far from new.
Christensen uncovered government figures from the 1950s showing 1.5 million of a population of 19 million (8%) were drug users, with eating or smoking opium common since the 15th century. She highlighted improvements under the Islamic Republic in treatment and rehabilitation with the Ahmadinejad government developing cooperation with international agencies and endorsing “one of the most progressive, NGO-operated drug treatment programmes, in the Middle East”.
Few issues illustrate a greater international challenge, yet intelligence and security cooperation between affected countries is notoriously poor.
Russian security reportedly seized 40 kilograms of heroin last year on the Kazakh border alone. Russia is cagey on figures but is thought to have 8 million heroin users. Last year the number of people with HIV reached a million, double the 2010 figure, with 1% of pregnant women HIV-positive in 15 of the country’s 82 regions.
Heroin is less prevalent in the United States, with 828,000 users in 2015, government figures indicate, but US deaths from heroin overdoses have risen six-fold since 2002 and the country has the world’s worst misuse of prescribed opioids.
Hence, the United States accounts for about one-quarter of global drug deaths, with a 200% increase from 1999-2015, the UNODC’s “World Drug Report 2017” stated. “Indeed,” it noted, “far more people die from the misuse of opioids in the United States each year than from road traffic accidents or violence.”