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Iran's Rehab Centres - Sanctuaries or Scams?

By Manijeh Nourmohammadi, Tehran (Source: Mianeh)


Look at the classified pages of any Iranian newspaper and you'll notice a growing number of adverts for drug rehabilitation centres. In recent months, at least 20 to 30 new institutions have placed listings, outlining their services to the public. At first glance, this might appear to reflect an increased desire to tackle drug addiction in the country, or at least a developing awareness of the problem.


However, relatives of patients have expressed skepticism at the thriving drug rehab trade, accusing those behind the hospitals of profiteering from others' misfortune. They questioned the effectiveness of the expensive and often lengthy treatments on offer and alleged that patients were still able to access drugs while in these supposedly "clean" environments.


Treating drug addiction can be a lucrative business. Mansur, who is staying at a rehabilitation unit in west Tehran, said that his family had so far spent over three million tomans, some 3,000 US dollars, to help him overcome his drug dependency.


Yet he said he continues to "play"' with blood - a reference to the practice of sharing a needle between friends to inject drug-contaminated blood - even though he is aware that he could contract hepatitis or HIV from this.


He has no problems accessing drugs while at the rehabilitation establishment, he said.


Mansur is not alone in continuing to use drugs while in rehab.


Recently, a fatal overdose in a ward at one of Tehran's specialist psychiatric and rehab hospitals generated a lot of controversy. Observers questioned how it could have happened in such an establishment, which charges exorbitant sums in exchange for a clean, quarantined environment in which people can overcome addictions.


The incident is thought to be just one of many cases where patients in rehab have continued to score illegal drugs.


Last week, a government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the authorities had received piles of reports about similar breaches within such centres. However, he noted that most of these had not been taken seriously or acted upon.


The majority of the complaints, he said, were from families concerned that addicts were still able to procure drugs during treatment.


People were also angry that patients had been sent home following rehab - yet remained dependent on drugs. Certain staff members were accused of accepting bribes from patients in exchange for providing fake urine test results to show they were clean.


Mohammad Reza, the father of a 23-year old who has been through rehab several times, has no faith in such institutions, saying they merely exploit vulnerable people who feel they have little alternative.


Reza, whose son became addicted to drugs while serving in the army, said he thought the growing rehabilitation business was driven by profiteers unconcerned with patient welfare.


According to him, doctors with significant experience or useful contacts establish a clinic under the guise of providing rehabilitation services. However, he said that instead of weaning patients off chemical substances, the centres left them addicted to lighter forms of drugs, thus allowing the health unit to prolong the treatment.


Another relative, Mitra, who has taken her addict brother to more than three different rehab centres, is now seeking help at the clinic of one of the most famous doctors in Tehran.


She said the medic treating her brother told her that some chemical substances have extremely complex compositions, making them hard to tackle. To overcome an addiction, it might be necessary to replace an individual's blood completely, and even that might not work, she was told.


Some patients' relatives doubt the efficacy of the treatments on offer.


Faryal, who was accompanying another patient at the clinic attended by Mitra, said she suspected patients were being conned.


According to her, a three-week treatment process is sometimes stretched out to last three months, even a year. Patients' families have to stump up cash for every doctor's visit and test during this period - and that is particularly difficult in the current economic climate.


"Quitting addiction is difficult, but it's not as complicated or unfeasible as they say. [Treatment centres have] turned into a new way of ripping off patients' families," she said.


Another relative, Masumeh, whose son and nephew were both being treated for addiction, also expressed her dissatisfaction. She pointed out that the cost of a doctor's visit was twice as much the cost of a weekly drugs supply, and appeared to do the patient little good.


"Our children don't improve in these counseling centres," she said.


She added that most people now believed that those running rehab centres were concerned only with lining their own pockets and were useless at helping people recover from addiction.


According to Masumeh, centre staff do not spend sufficient time with patients or take them through the entire process of overcoming addiction and rehabilitation.


"How can [patients] be persuaded to quit their addiction when they find out that they are being told lots of repetitive nonsense instead of being given one-to-one counseling, and as long as drugs are as available as sweets?"


Manijeh Nourmohammadi is a freelance journalist specialising in social affairs and based in Tehran.

This article is an abridged and translated version of the full original text published on the Farsi pages of Mianeh, with editorial adjustments agreed with the writer made to provide clarity for English-language readers.


About Mianeh: Mianeh is a new independent web-based initiative run as a project by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting ( the award-winning non-profit media development organization that works across the globe to platform local voices and promote international learning and engagement. Mianeh aims to be an open space for ideas, news and debate where writers in Iran can reach out to each other as well as to those outside the country who are interested in learning more about the vibrant and dynamic society that is Iran today.

... Payvand News - 01/22/09 ... --

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