ISSN 2330-717X

How Does The Clerical Regime Influences Addiction In Iran? – OpEd

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By Khalil Khani*

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Once we are speaking of drug use, we are referring to all uses of illegal drugs such as heroin, amphetamines, barbiturates, cannabis, cocaine, hallucinogens, and opioids. Their consumption is a serious creator of the major health, psychosocial and socioeconomic problems in the world, and can lead to several complicated problems for addicted individuals, their families, and society.

There are gender differences in drug use in the communities. However, the rate of drug use in men has been significantly higher than in women, even though this gender gap has steadily been decreasing. Narcotics, themselves a quintessential global commodity, existed prominently in the history of Iran. It all started with opium in ancient times. Panacea painkiller, lucrative crop, poetic intoxicant, and sexual inhabitant. In the course of the twentieth century, traditional opium users found themselves in a semantic landscape populated with the announcement of modernity. A “psychoactive revolution” had happened worldwide, in which Iranians actively participated. People acquired the power to alter their state of mind, at their will and through the consumption of psychoactive substances. The availability of psychoactive drugs had become entrenched in the socio-economic fabric of the modern world, complementing the traditional use of drugs, opium in particular, as a medical remedy. With high drug productivity and faster trade links at the turn of the twentieth century, narcotics became widely available across the world. Iran, for that matter, produced large amounts of opium since the commercialization of agriculture, which occurred in the late nineteenth century.

Despite the dramatic political developments in 1979 and a series of wide policy swings for over a century, drug use in Iran has remained remarkably strong.

Despite the existence of a social stigma, drug use prevalence has tremendously increased in recent years in Iran. This is due to various reasons. First, and foremost the clerical regime established drug policies, which is benefiting from both ends: 1) incriminating massive numbers of Iranians for carrying or using a minimal amount of illicit drugs to long term jail, and many cases even execution, 2) managing the turf just for IRGC to be the dominant drug lord and channelize people more into addiction.

According to numerous reports of various customs and boarders control agents, IRGC is heavily involved in drug trafficking and its distribution among people. Second, having a shared border with Afghanistan, East of Iran, which is the largest producer country of opium in the world, and a major route for substance transport to Europe through Iran.

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Based on the World Health Organization (WHO), Iran has the highest rate of opium abusers in the world, and opium use in Iran is three times the global average. The clerical regime provided statistics show that there are about 2 million people using illicit drugs on a daily basis in Iran, which is about 2.7% of the population. It has to be reminded that one shouldn’t trust the regime’s provided data because a trained eye and a visit to some communities in southern Tehran or other major cities reveal the catastrophic condition of addicts.

Providing knowledge about the determinants influencing drug use in democratic societies can enable healthcare policymakers in developing, implement, and evidence-based preemptive programs. However, such knowledge not only is not useful in Iran but also will certainly create serious troubles for its providers and advocators. They will have the same destiny as the environmental activists.

Various hypotheses have been expressed about people’s tendency for addiction, However, none of them alone can explain this problem. Without taking a complete qualitative and critical look at the historical, social, economic, and political nature of the societies that nurses addiction, all scientific efforts to overcome this hazard are useless.

Several studies have indicated the predictive nature of socioeconomic status (SES) in drug use such as alcohol consumption, opium, cigarette smoking, and cannabis. But at the same time, the association between SES and drug use is also very complex. For example, the prevalence of cigarette smoking is higher among groups with low SES and they may be more exposed to harms related to cigarette smoking. Unfortunately, a much higher addiction rate is also found among individuals with low SES in Iran. At the same time results of some studies have reported higher alcohol consumption and cannabis use among people with higher SES.

Very often one witnesses news such as the following reports by the Iranian media: anti-narcotics police have seized more than 16 tons of illicit drugs in the southern province of Hormozgan. According to the statements of various narcotics investigators, there are two major routes that transport narcotics from Afghanistan into Iran. One is the route to Khorasan province, and the second route through Sistan-Baluchistan into the port of Bandar Abbas in Hormozgan province. Hormozgan’s Police Chief Brigadier General Azizullah Maleki in an interview said: The security forces confiscated illicit drugs from 219 vehicles over the past three months. He added that the seized drugs included 12,975 kg of opium, 3,115 kg of hashish, 39 kg of heroin, and 27.5 kg of various other types of narcotics. The police have also arrested more than 1,000 individuals allegedly involved in the drugs trade, including 83 kingpins.

Iran’s Drug Control Headquarters (IDCH) announced separately that it had planned to incinerate 160 tons of narcotics in seven provinces. IDC’s Spokesman Perviz Afshar also revealed that the number of drug addicts in Iran has climbed to nearly three million people. Afshar further warned that drug cartels and arms smugglers are developing a “sophisticated connection” inside Iran and in the region, but he wouldn’t mention that these cartels are the same as IRGC members or groups affiliated with them.

Out of a population of 85 million, about 5 to 6 million Iranians are estimated to be addicts, continually one of the world’s highest addiction rates. Prisons abound with users: In 1987, 78,000 people were imprisoned on drug-related charges; in 2004, the number was 431,430 and years thereafter had one of the highest rates in the world.

There are close to 6 million addicts in Iran, and 200 to 300 thousand of them live on the streets according to some other estimates. This number is increasing due to poverty and insufficient policies to combat addiction. Addiction experts say treatment programs and interventions are insufficient. Heartbreaking photographs and videos distributed on social media in the south of Tehran of homeless people, most of them, drug addicts published in the Iranian media triggered a national outcry in the country. Moreover, rehabilitation facilities are inadequate, and even use torture and humiliation tactics against addicts according to eyewitnesses. The used treatment methods are neither “scientific” nor “humanistic” and do little to prevent drug users from relapsing.

Iranian leaders often praise their country’s “sacrifices” in the fight against narcotics. In a way, Iran’s former Foreign Minister Javad Zarif blamed Western countries for the failure of international efforts to tackle drug trafficking and claimed that the clerical regime of Iran pays a high price for its contribution to combating the global illicit narcotics trade. “West’s failure in preventing drug trafficking is a major problem. The fight against drug smuggling should also not be politicized,” Zarif emphasized.

Zarif is right that Iran has suffered immensely from drug problems for decades but also, he won’t mention the IRGC involvement, as a matter, he is justifying the existence of his partners. As a neighbor of Afghanistan, which produces more than 90% of the world’s illegal narcotics, makes Iran in fact a major transit route for Afghan opium and its derivatives smuggled to the Middle East and en route to Europe. Narcotics trafficking and use have also created major security, economic, and health problems for Iran. The country’s health ministry officials warned that the drug problem has become a national epidemic. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime has also warned that Iran is facing one of the worst addiction crises in the world.  

While Iranian leaders often portray Iran as the world’s stalwart ally in the fight against drugs, the clerical regime has had a checkered track record and some of its policies at home and actions abroad exacerbate the drug problem in the region and around the world. For example, although some 4,000 Iranian police officers and border guards have lost their lives fighting drug kingpins and seizing drug shipments entering the country from Afghanistan, Iran’s IRGC is said to resell the confiscated drugs to international smugglers. In 2012, the US Department of the Treasury designated General Gholamreza Baghbani, a top commander of the IRGC Quds Force, as a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker. “Today’s action exposes IRGC-QF involvement in trafficking narcotics, made doubly reprehensible here because it is done as part of a broader scheme to support terrorism. Treasury will continue exposing narcotics traffickers and terrorist supporters wherever they operate,” then, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said.

Moreover, the IRGC has contributed to Afghanistan’s instability, growing opium cultivation, and trade. Also, they were assisting Taliban groups prior to coming to power, while fighting an insurgency in western and southern Afghan provinces, a region where most of Afghanistan’s narcotics are cultivated and produced.

Over the decades following the 1979 revolution, the clerical regime authorities referred to unruly members of the suburbs with the derogatory term “arazel va owbash”. Its meaning is vague. The law enforcement and political establishments of the clerical regime remained vague on who exactly belonged to this multifarious group of dangerous individuals. That arrested none conformance to the regime’s method of thought was systematically accused of being involved in drug dealing and/or being addicted. In the official discourse, being connected with drugs triggered an association with a milieu of unruliness, moral decadence, alcoholism, Satanism, and “bullying”.

The danger posed by them was destabilizing the moral order on which the clerical regime finds its legitimacy. These people were unable to adapt to or engaged in the changed post-Iran-Iraq war era and contaminated themselves with illicit drugs. At the same time that the clerical regime was portraying addicts and unruliness as parasites of the society, however, the regime was benefiting from their services against political dissidents or had organized them in IRGC units, as flog persons against uprisings. As was mentioned earlier the clerical regime is managing every aspect of miseries in Iran, considering it to be illicit drugs, addiction, poverty, marginalization, or rationing of food. It covers all. Thus, it is justifiable to bring down such a regime that is an enemy of humanity. Iranian people and their legitimate resistance are doing exactly that.

*Khalil Khani is an Environmental Specialist and a Human Rights activist. He holds a Ph.D. in Ecology, Botany, and Environmental Studies from Germany and has taught at the University of Tehran and the Hesse State University in Germany. He is also a Doctor of Medical Psychology from the United States

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