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Iran: Doctor Describes Drug Addiction Treatment

By Azam Gorgin and Charles Recknagel

Iran, like its Central Asian neighbors, is suffering a growing drug addiction problem with cheap opium and heroin from Afghanistan. In a two-part series, RFE/RL's Azam Gorgin looks at what treatment is available to Iranian drug addicts. Part 2 is an interview with a Tehran doctor who describes the treatment programs.

Prague, 17 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Our correspondent spoke with Dr. Arash Mirabzadeh, a psychiatrist who teaches at the University of Public Health in Tehran.

RFE/RL asked Dr. Mirabzadeh, who also treats addicts at government-funded rehabilitation centers in Tehran, to describe the programs available to them. He said:

"We have outpatient centers for those who self refer. And they get treated in two phases. First is detoxification with newly produced drugs, which lasts for two weeks. The second phase is a long-term treatment through group therapy such as NA [Narcotic Anonymous] with a psychologist where they discuss and share their problems and prevention."

Our correspondent asked how many addicts there are. He replied:

"We do not have the correct statistics but I can tell you that the number is high and those who come to these centers are between 20 to 40 years of age. But in reality, these numbers don't represent accurate statistics because still there are those who think that addiction is considered a crime and an addict a criminal."

RFE/RL asked Dr. Mirabzadeh what drugs are used for treating addiction. He said:

"The new drugs for detoxifying and treatment are very rare. We mainly use methadone."

We asked whether the addicts must pay a fee. He replied:

"In these centers patients pay a minimal fee, nothing really to speak of, so that shouldn't really prevent them from referring themselves to these centers. In private practices, the doctors can charge a fee and addicts may pay."

The doctor also was asked how many rehabilitation and treatment centers are available. He said:

"There are a few centers in Tehran, also in other cities. Not all hospitals are equipped or have the expertise to deal with addicts. I do not submit them to the hospital, because I believe in focusing on long-term treatment."

He also said the number of addicts who return to their habit after leaving the centers is high:

"The number of those who go back to their addiction is high. I believe that we should not think we can cure what causes addiction, we have to concentrate on how to cure an addict. I think we should increase educational programs in this field."

Our correspondent asked if he sees many women drug addicts. He said:

"I have had women, but not a lot, because they do not refer themselves to a doctor. And the substance is same as what men use. Alcoholics are very, very few."

He said drug users come from poorer income families.

"It is mainly from poor and few from very wealthy families. In the middle class where there is a strong presence of parental figures addiction is rarely seen."

Finally, we asked how addicts learn about the existence of treatment programs. He said:

"We have some advertising systems through TV and newspapers for both private and government sectors."

(This concludes the two-part series on drug addiction in Iran.)