Friday, September 23, 2005

Washington Post reports: Opiates of the Iranian people

There is a very disturbing report in today's Washington Post about the widespread use of drugs in Iran. It rightfully points to the fact that that despair in the Iranian society has caused the world's highest addiction rate. The report also includes interviews with a few drug addicts in the south of Tehran and also a police officer who believes "to make all the youths addicted is an official state policy":

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, September 23, 2005; A01

TEHRAN -- If he could afford it, Ali Nariman would drink beer, he says. But like most Iranians, he is poor, and so takes his solace in the form of a small gray ball of opium.

Nariman is 18. And like hundreds of thousands of Iranians turning to harder narcotics at younger ages, he regards drugs as the only alternative to work.

"We should have jobs," Nariman said, standing in the vast cemetery on the southern edge of Tehran. In a routine played out every Thursday, the day families traditionally visit the cemetery devoted mostly to war dead, young addicts sweep in afterward to scavenge the cookies and dates left on the graves.

"I sometimes find work," Nariman said, "collecting stale bread in town."

According to the U.N. World Drug Report for 2005, Iran has the highest proportion of opiate addicts in the world -- 2.8 percent of the population over age 15. Only two other countries -- Mauritius and Kyrgyzstan -- pass the 2 percent mark. With a population of about 70 million and some government agencies putting the number of regular users close to 4 million, Iran has no real competition as world leader in per capita addiction to opiates, including heroin.

But if the utility of narcotics has roots in Iran's ancient culture, and the discount prices (about $5 for a gram of heroin, 50 percent pure) stem from proximity to the poppy fields of neighboring Afghanistan, experts, addicts and government officials agree that addiction has lately emerged as a corrosive new symptom of the country's economic failure, a marker for despair.

"You haven't got a job. You haven't got a family. You haven't got entertainment," said Amir Mohammadi, who at 30 has been an addict for 10 years. "For a few hours, you forget everything."

Heroin, a powerful derivative of opium, is taking hold among young people whose path to addiction typically stems from disappointment in the job market. A government poll shows almost 80 percent of Iranians detect a direct link between unemployment and drug addiction.

Iran's government regularly fails to produce the 1 million jobs needed each year to accommodate the new workers entering the labor force from a baby boom still coming of age.
"We haven't reached the peak," said Roberto Arbitrio, head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in Tehran. "Unfortunately, there's room for increase."