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Iran: Domestic Drug Abuse, Smuggling On The Rise

  • Bill Samii

According to the UN, some 60 percent of Afghan opiates are smuggled out via Iran (AFP) President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told a 6 November meeting of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters that addiction rates in the country are falling, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Some three weeks later, the commander of the national police force, Brigadier-General Ismail Ahmadi-Moghaddam, said the official drug-abuse statistics are wrong. Ahmadi-Moghaddam said the actual number of drug addicts is less than 2.2 million, IRNA reported on 26 November, and he said 1.1 million to 1.2 million Iranians abuse drugs on a daily basis. He went on to say that consumption of heroin and morphine is falling.

Not only do these statements contradict those of the country's counternarcotics and law-enforcement officials, but the most recent statistics on Afghan narcotics production promise that Iran's problems are only going to worsen.

Drug Abuse On The Increase

According to a recent Drug Control Headquarters report, 2,299 Iranians died in connection with drug abuse in the first six months of the Iranian year (starting 21 March), the Iranian Students News Agency reported on 15 November. This is a 14 percent increase over the same period one year ago. The number of deaths in July-August was 48 percent higher than the previous year. The rise in mortality is attributed to contaminated and impure drug supplies, overdoses, and infections.

The deputy policy chief in Markazi (Central) Province, Nematollah Mokhtari, said in early October that seizures since the beginning of the Iranian year were 60 percent higher than the same period a year ago, IRNA reported on 9 October. Opium was seized most frequently, followed by heroin, hashish, and other narcotics. Mokhtari said counternarcotics legislation must be revised, because 95 percent of the people who are arrested return to their old habits after they are released.

An editorial in the 1 December "Tehran Times" claimed, "It is very hard to find a city or village in Iran where there is no sign of opium or its use." The public does not always trust the police, and in some locations, the police no longer arrest drug dealers. Even if the dealers are arrested, the editorial continued, they are quickly released. On the same day, an editorial in "Iran News" mentioned a "deadly drugs-prisons-AIDS triangle in Iran is responsible for a majority of HIV-positive cases in the country." The editorial said jailed addicts use dirty needles.

Crystal Meth And Synthetics

Radio Farda's Kaveh Basmenji notes in his 2005 book, "Tehran Blues -- Youth Culture in Iran," that drug abuse has been on the increase for years. In just the March 2004-March 2005 period, 40,000 Iranians died as a result of drug abuse, according to Basmenji. A dose of heroin costs the equivalent of just $7, and officially, use of intravenous drugs is the leading cause of HIV-AIDS in the country. Once a problem mainly affecting males, furthermore, addiction now is a problem shared by Iranian females.

The abuse of synthetic drugs, including ecstasy and methamphetamine, is increasing too. Police inspecting a bus at Torbat-i Jam, Khorasan Razavi Province, seized 66 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine on 24 November, Fars News Agency reported. The drugs were discovered in the air-conditioning unit of a bus coming from Afghanistan's Herat Province. The number of Iranian users of these drugs is unknown.

Supplies From Afghanistan

The "Afghanistan Opium Survey 2005," which was released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in late November, asserts that the opium yield for the most recent growing season surpassed that of the previous year. So although the total area dedicated to drug crops fell by 21 percent to 104,000 hectares, total potential opium production decreased only some 2.5 percent to 4,100 tons.

Approximately 60 percent of the opiates (opium, morphine, and heroin) produced in Afghanistan leave the country via Iran, according to the UNODC, marking an increase from the 40 percent level of 2004. Broken down further, 93.7 percent of the opium was exported to Iran in 2002-04, compared to 3.4 percent to Pakistan and 2.9 percent to Central Asia. UNODC added that some of the opium entering Pakistan may be shipped onward to Iran by Baluchi smugglers. A relatively small proportion of Afghan opium is converted to morphine or heroin in the country. Approximately 36 percent of the morphine and heroin exported from Afghanistan ended up in Iran, compared to 50 percent in Pakistan and 14 percent in Central Asia.

Either because of increased demand or because of law-enforcement efforts, opium prices in Iran surpass those in Afghanistan's other neighbors, the UNODC reported. A kilogram of opium cost an average of $930 in the portion of Sistan va Baluchistan Province that borders Afghanistan. In Tehran, that kilogram of opium retails for approximately $4,400. Morphine and heroin were more costly: in the portion of Sistan va Baluchistan Province that borders Afghanistan a kilogram of morphine cost an average of $3,800 and the same amount of poor-quality heroin cost $2,300. By the time the drugs get to Tehran, the prices will have increased to $4,700 for a kilo of morphine and $4,400-$7,700 for a kilo of heroin, depending on the purity.

Supply Interdiction

Iran's primary means of attacking the drug supply is through law-enforcement activity along its eastern borders. It also has created numerous static defenses -- such as trenches, fences, and giant sand berms -- along the border. Moreover, Tehran is working closely with Kabul and other countries to address the problem.

When Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah visited Iran in late November, the narcotics problem was a frequent topic of conversation. Abdullah said after a 23 November meeting with Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani that they discussed counternarcotics extensively, IRNA reported. "Iran and Afghanistan have suffered immensely from illicit drugs and it is imperative that they cooperate on the issue," Abdullah said. They concurred that the international community should play a bigger part in combating drug trafficking from Afghanistan. Abdullah and Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki also discussed counternarcotics cooperation, according to Mehr News Agency and IRNA. On 23 November they signed a memorandum of understanding that addressed border controls, as well as other issues.

Mottaki said on 7 November in Tehran at a conference on Central Asia and the Caucasus that drug-related activities threaten society and they also fund terrorists and criminals, IRNA reported. Mottaki noted the danger this poses to regional security and stability. Mottaki urged European states, which he described as the ultimate destination of the drugs, to do more to help Iranian counternarcotics efforts.

Mottaki also discussed drug control during a 28 November meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Elmar Muhammad-Yarev. The two sides reportedly agreed that cooperation in this area must be strengthened, IRNA reported.

Looking For Scapegoats

Through its cooperation with Afghanistan, and through its numerous drug-control agreements with other countries, Iran shows every sign that it recognizes the causes of drug production and abuse. Nevertheless, Iranian officials frequently resort to tired and preposterous theories when discussing the topic.

In a discussion of June and October violence in southwestern Iran, Minister of Intelligence and Security Gholam Hussein Mohseni-Ejei pinned the blame on the United States. He said drug smuggling has worsened since U.S. forces were deployed in Afghanistan, Fars News Agency reported on 10 November. "By increasing the level of insecurity, America is trying to justify its presence in the region and it is for this reason that America supports the smuggling [of drugs] and the creation of insecurity, because the establishment of security will mean the end of the American presence in the region."

As he toured the border with Afghanistan on 10 October, Interior Minister Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi said the U.S. presence in the region has contributed to drug trafficking and terrorism, Mehr News Agency reported.

Neither official speculated on the factors that might contribute to drug abuse by Iranians, such as unemployment, poverty, boredom, and hopelessness. "I have lost my hope," a retired social worker said in Kaveh Basmenji's book. "Drug abuse is going wild and out of control. Honestly speaking, I do not think we can do anything to fight the increasing number of addicts in Iran."
RFE/RL Iran Report


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