A history of Iranian drug policy

According to the Iranian press agency in 2009 there was in Iran nearly 1,200,000 drug users. However this statistic does not take into account occasional users.

For many this information is amazing from a country known as a theocratic regime based on Islamic values.

The long standing roots of drug culture in Iran go so far back that drug use could not possibly be seen as imported western culture. But the drug use finds its sources far in the past so it is not an Import from western culture.

The consumption of the opium by Iranian people was already well established at the beginning of the 20th  century. Thus, the first law anti-drug   was promulgate in 1912 against opium use and its cultivation. However this bill didn’t impact upon t the cultivation of the opium. Indeed, the Iranian economy at this time was completely dependent on  opium’s exportation.

In 1943, it was estimated the number of drug users at 1.5 million in a population of 14 million. So in order to fight this issue the Iranian government promulgated a law which prohibited all opium poppy cultivation and use.

Facing an increasing of smuggling activities the Iranian authorities decided to enact anti-smuggling laws which were ratified in 1959 and 1969. Prisons became full of smugglers and drug users. Their cases were judged by a military court and there was capital punishment for smugglers.

Never the less , all these repressive bills did not give any convincing results and the Iranian state had understood it. Indeed, in 1971 a governmental opium ID card was issued for elderly and ill opium users in order to get legal supply of their daily use.

Thus there were around 169,000 people on this program and the number of non –official drug users was estimated between 200,000 to 500,000 people.

The choice of the treatment used by the addiction treatment services (ATS) turned to Methadone just before the revolution.

The new government returned to the principles of the repressive bill. Indeed, in 1980 a law was edited to intensify penalties of drug related criminals and boots camps were created under supervision of prison services and the revolutionary committee. Also the ATS were closed down and boot camps created where since 1983 transformed to rehabilitation centre where arrested addicts were coercively detoxified.

In 1988 the Iranian government intensified the repressive nature of its bills. A new Anti-Narcotics Law was enacted criminalising drug use, it allowed the arrest of addicts in any circumstances, and established the Drug Control Headquarters (DCHQ).

It was the mid-90s before  Iranian authorities turned to a less repressive policy all under the leadership of civil society. Before 1996 drug treatment clinics had been run by welfare organisations  their treatment options was still not officially accepted.

Then the Iranian legislator followed the reality of Iranian society and decided in 1997 to enact a new amendment of the anti-narcotic law. Now drug users which are still considered as a criminal are also considered as patient, drug users are not arrested while they are under treatment, and  boot camps were shut down.

This big return of the Iranian authorities to a moderate policy drives us to find that, a repressive policy cannot help drug users  to be in better health.

To do this  it was necessary to evaluate the number of drug users. So in 1998 the number of drug users announced was 2,000,000 ( 1,200,000 addicts & 800,000 casual users ). That statistics show the big effort provided made by the Iranian government. This was the first ever official estimate of drug users! 
Also, the first clinic was established in October 2000 where drug users can have a free and voluntary HIV consulting and testing, free antiretroviral treatment, needle syringe program in a health centre run by public sector.

Then in the same year was created triangular clinics inside prisons with confidential counselling and testing, Anti-retroviral treatment.

These statistics allowed to the authorities to see the magnitude of the phenomena but the policy against drug is only at the beginning and the extent of this task is very big.
There was in 2006 between 250,000 and 300,000 heroin users : 30,000 to 50,000 represent a high risk.

19,100 were arrested by the police : 10 % Sent to the boot camps which were re-established , 51%  sent to private and NGO clinics , 27 % sent to publics clinics and 12% sent to their  families.

Since 2007 five automatic vending machines offering sterile syringe and condoms have been installed in five shelters for homeless drug users in Teheran.

In the same year 132 Methadone clinics have been established by the ministry of health(MOH). MOH has to establish another 66 Methadone clinics.

Finally, we can say  that Iran trough the regimes has today choose a policy which is not repressive as almost all western countries. Antonio Costa from UNDOC said about Iranian authorities that its fight against drug is one of the best of the world.  So anyone can doubt the effort of Iran against drug dependency.

So as the medical aspect is nowadays on a good way in Iran ,  the government should care about more of the causes of the drug dependency. Indeed, the youth population is like the  youth of other Middle Eastern countries. The unemployment and the frustration are probably the main factors that push people to consume drugs.

So what kind of effort does the Iranian government make to fight social problems? Could a scenario like Tunisia and Egypt  happen in Iran?

Even if the socials issues are not the only cause of the addiction they still could be the main solution. Indeed, we do know that drug dependency is caused by the lack of hope for a better life. That’s why we need to care especially about young people with regard to this issue.

So this task is entrusted t to politicians who have to find global solutions for societal issues. The addiction can be resolved not only by isolated measures but also by a global policy which concerns all societal issues.