Iran plays a large role in discussions about U.S. national security, but most Americans know very little about the isolationist Middle-Eastern country. One surprising thing to many people about Iran is the depth and seriousness of the drug problem within its borders. The country’s Islamist theocracy takes a hard line toward drug use, handing down capital punishments to many drug traffickers.
Iran’s border with Afghanistan, the world’s largest producer of opium, contributes to its drug problem. Other factors making addiction rates worse are the country’s tough economic situation due to trade sanctions and high unemployment rates. There also is a limited number of treatment centers and people go without care because of the stigma associated with drug use. Estimates show 2 to 3 million of the country’s population suffers with addiction and eight to 10 people die every day due to drug use. The average age of a drug user in Iran is 14 to 16 years old and addiction affects people from every social class.
The number of Iranians addicted to drugs, primarily heroin and methamphetamine, continues to rise. As a way to combat drug use, Iran now executes more people in the drug trade, with drug smugglers accounting for 9 out of every 10 executions. The harsh penalties show no sign of stopping the growing epidemic, however.
- Iran currently has one of the world’s highest rates of drug addiction. The United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime reports the country has the world’s second-highest rate of opium addiction and the highest rate of heroin and opium addiction per member of the population.1
- Opium use is culturally acceptable due to a literary tradition of famous poets using opium and calling it an antidote to every disease.3
- The country’s health ministry provides little treatment, so private charities offer programs to treat methamphetamine and opiate addiction. Camps are set up to offer harm-reduction services and treatments not previously sanctioned by the government. They offer services such as clean needles, condoms, medical care and a place to sleep.
- Methamphetamine use is rising in Iran; some people believe the stimulant helps them control their dependence on opioids; other people use it to treat depression or improve relationships.
- Rates of HIV/AIDS infections continue to grow in Iran. Around half of cases are due to intravenous drug use; as a way to reduce infections the government now offers oral drug substitution and a new needle-exchange program.
- Due to the fundamentalist nature of the government in Iran, there are very few drug rehab facilities, needle exchanges or education opportunities to teach young people about the dangers of drug use.
- Iran is a major route for the drugs that move out of Afghanistan and into Europe for mass consumption. This is due to the small numbers of borders that need to be crossed in order to transport heroin and other illegal substances.4
Getting Help for Addiction
Addicted individuals in the United States are lucky enough to have outstanding drug rehab programs at their disposal. If you, or someone you love has developed a substance use problem, contact an addiction treatment facility in your area.
Dehghani, R. &Amiri, M. (2016). Addiction: A big challenge of social security in Iran. International Journal of Epidemiologic Research. Retrieved Mar. 8, 2017 from http://ijer.skums.ac.ir/article_21148_0.html.
Dareini, A.A. (2015). Drug abuse in Iran on rise despite executions, police raids. The Times of Israel. Retrieved Mar. 8, 2017 from http://www.timesofisrael.com/drug-abuse-in-iran-on-rise-despite-executions-police-raids/.
 Dareini, A.A. (2015). Drug abuse in Iran on rise despite executions, police raids. The Times of Israel. Retrieved Mar. 8, 2017 from http://www.timesofisrael.com/drug-abuse-in-iran-on-rise-despite-executions-police-raids/.
 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2016). World Drug Report 2016. Retrieved Mar. 8, 2017 from https://www.unodc.org/doc/wdr2016/WORLD_DRUG_REPORT_2016_web.pdf.
 Dehghan, S.K. (2013). Iran sees dramatic rise in HIV infections. The Guardian. Retrieved Mar. 8, 2017 from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/02/iran-rise-hiv.