TEHRAN (Fars News Agency)- Iran's anti-drug trafficking chief chided the international community for not doing enough to help stop the flow of drugs from Afghanistan, saying that the West has left Tehran alone in the campaign against drugs while it enjoys the results of the sacrifices Iranian troops make.
"Iran expects the EU and the world to do more than just thank Iran," said Brigadier General Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, head of the drug control headquarters, as he announced plans last month to seal Iran's border with Afghanistan.
According to Brig Gen Ahmadi Moghaddam, Iran seized 900 tons of narcotics in 2007, including what the United Nations estimated to be 80 per cent of the total opium seized worldwide, but the battle has cost the lives of more than 3,500 Iranian security officers.
And much of the contraband is still making its way to the country's towns and cities, fuelling a major drug addiction problem.
The Iranian government estimates that between 800,000 and 1.7m of its citizens are addicted to opiates.
In recent years, however, the government has adopted a progressive approach to tackling addiction (winning admiration from western countries and praise from the United Nations), and drug addicts these days can turn to one of the many hundreds of state-run and non-governmental drug treatment and prevention centers.
Sitting in a conference room in the Aftab addiction treatment clinic in downtown Tehran, Mehdi, 26, snapped a rubber band fastened around his wrist and winced in pain. "I do this every time I feel the need for drugs," he said. "It takes my mind off them." Mehdi, who asked to use only his first name, is addicted to heroin, the result of a drug habit that started three years ago after his father died. He began smoking hashish and opium to escape from the grief and the pressures of having to support his family but it was not long before he moved on to more potent and addictive substances.
At Aftab, he receives doses of methadone to neutralize his cravings as well as an intensive treatment program, which he said has changed his life: "One hundred per cent."
At such centers as Aftab, drug addicts can receive access to support groups and full treatment, which can include hospitalization. Mehdi was hospitalized for four months after a relapse when his plans to get married went awry.
Parviz Maleki, director general of Aftab and a senior governmental adviser on drug addiction, said the government's open approach to tackling drug addiction could not have come soon enough.
"The old way of considering drug abuse as a crime was not working," he said. "Drug users could never seek help so they could never be rehabilitated. The problem was just getting worse."
About 100,000 addicts are now receiving methadone, according to the ministry of health.
In Iran, however, classifying drug addiction is not so straightforward. It and surrounding countries - such as Pakistan and Afghanistan - share histories of opium use and in many parts of these countries smoking it is a cultural norm.
Historically, opium in Iran has been used as a painkiller and for other medicinal purposes. In 1943, a government-sponsored study estimated that 1.4m Iranians out of a population of 14m were "addicted" to opium.
These days, 93 per cent of the world's opium is produced in neighboring Afghanistan, 60 per cent of which passes through Iran to US markets, among others, according to the UNODC.
Each year, the government spends hundreds of millions of dollars erecting barriers along the borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan and pumping resources into checkpoints. Officials said the battle against drug addiction and trafficking costs Iran US$1 billion a year.
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