Those of us who expect the people in Iran to overthrow their Shariah shackles are in for a great disappointment. Along with outright Gestapo-like intimidation, Iranian people have been drugged into submission.
According to “official surveys” reported in Iranian government newspapers, about six million Iranians, or nearly 10% of the total population of 65 million, can be classed as drug users. The Iran newspaper said that out of the total number of narcotics users, some 2.5 million people were actual addicts; but gave no further details; experts believe the number to be higher. Iran is on a major trafficking route for heroin, opium, morphine and cannabis from Afghanistan. In the past ten years Iran has experienced an explosion of narcotics use.
Unemployment in Iran is somewhere between 11 percent (the official level) and 25 percent (the estimate given by some outside economists). One in four Iranians lives in poverty, despite high oil prices and high oil revenue. Some in government say because of these dire economic conditions—particularly among those under thirty, who comprise 70 percent of Iran’s population—people turn to drugs. Bill Samii of RFE/RL in the Brown Journal of World Affairs writes “This grievance combines with general boredom and a lack of options.” The Washington Post says a government poll shows almost 80 percent of Iranians believe there is a direct link between unemployment and drug addiction.
Samii, who has written extensively about drug abuse in Iran, reports that young Iranians, restricted from drinking alcohol in pubs, are increasingly switching to synthetic “club drugs” like methamphetamines and LSD, in addition to cannabis, ecstasy, and crystal forms of concentrated heroin. Iran’s state welfare organization tells RFE/RL that an estimated 10% of the adult population is addicted to drugs, with 90,000 Iranians becoming drug addicts—most of them hooked on heroin or opium—each year. Government sources say “Drugs are symptomatic of a people’s social problems. In Iran it’s a conflict between pre-modern and modern Iranians.”
But is poverty and boredom the only real causes of increasing drug addition among the populace?
Officially, the economy, and especially the high rate of joblessness, tops the list of reasons given by Iranians for drug abuse. Unemployment stands at 14% officially and is estimated by outside experts to be in the 25% range. But in actuality it is the despair people, especially young people, feel about their prospects in a government controlled theocratic society depriving them of freedom that is responsible. In one report, a young man in the town of Islamshahr said “We’re all jobless. We have nothing to do. We try to do a little bit of business here and there and we get arrested as troublemakers. That’s why there are so many drug addicts here. It’s the despair.” Another addict said that he had been in combat for forty months during the Iran-Iraq War, but when he returned the regime abandoned him. He supported his drug habit with odd jobs and charity, and he warned, “The youth are becoming drug addicts. We have no freedom, no jobs, nowhere to go and have fun. So we are all addicts.”
The availability of drugs not being discouraged by the government also has an impact. In the words of an individual who deals with addiction treatment and prevention at one Welfare Organization in Iran, “the purchase of heroin has become easier than the purchase of a bottle of milk. To buy bread, we are forced to wait in a line for a long time, but to purchase drugs, no problem exists.”
While a war veteran was describing the lack of alternatives to taking or dealing drugs said that the local park only has four trees, an opium addict added “Instead of trees in our parks, all you find are drug dealers.”
There are also other factors contributing to drug abuse in Iran. A member of parliament who is also secretary of the Anti-drugs Society attributed drug abuse to the way individuals are treated in society: “In our society, human beings are not looked upon with dignity and respect, otherwise people who are socially accepted would not turn to drugs.”
Of course, the government answer to increasing drug use cannot admit the problem is a government controlled society that denies freedom to its people so they have to attribute the drug problem to poverty; ironically for which they are also responsible. Naturally too western culture of free countries has to be blamed as well.
A member of the theocratic parliament explained that culture is behind the demand for drugs: “Today, the youth are bored with what they have and wish for things they haven’t got. This is rooted in Western culture and should be confronted with the use of cultural tools.” This explanation and others also are the kinds of reasons one expects to hear from Iranian officials. One cleric said that weak religious faith is the main reason why people are attracted to drugs. Another cleric said that Iran’s enemies are encouraging the youth to consume drugs (but it is the Iranian government that is responsible for the ease with which drugs are available).
Drug rehabilitation programs are available but people are reluctant to use them because of the stigma associated with being an admitted drug addict. Moreover, many who quit using drugs resume their addictions because of the country’s bleak realities and because of the lack of alternatives. Ex-addicts are rejected by their families and cannot get good jobs if they have served prison time, even though work centers have been created for them. As a result, they fall back in with drug users. A psychiatrist who works with addicts concurred that many who supposedly are cured resume their habits, because the focus is on curing addiction rather than on what causes addiction. To acknowledge the real reason for drug addiction requires implied admission that the theocratic system of freedom deprivation is the root cause.
It is true that the government in Iran makes a show of trying to halt the flow of drugs into the country and punishes seriously some found to sell or distribute drugs but this is window dressing to show the world that Iran cares about the drug blight on its people. The reality is that drug addiction is not discouraged because it is useful to keep the population under control. Addicts are not likely to take up arms to overthrow the theocratic regime.
However even in the area of seeming attempts to thwart entry of drugs the government is woefully inadequate,
In 1995 the U.S. State Department described “intermittent reports that drug-related corruption is endemic…extensive bribing of border guards…traffickers are sometimes set free upon payment of a bribe.” A police commander later admitted, “Traffickers sometimes persuade police personnel to take bribes. In the province so far this year [March 1999-January 2000] there have been such cases.” A parliamentary deputy from the southeastern town of Minab said that the local Law Enforcement Forces “have put the city’s people under heavy pressure, beat them, and kill them in the name of fighting drug trafficking. Further, the [police] are taking bribes, while people who suffer from hunger and poverty are accused of illicit drug trade.” A Western journalist noted that official reports do not mention corruption, while in Tehran “street dealers pay police patrols $15 a day to turn a blind eye.” “Security officials are poorly paid. They can earn finders’ fees for confiscating narcotics, but smugglers can offer them much more money. The chief of police specifically mentioned the problem of low salaries when he complained about inadequate financial resources for drug interdiction.”
Does this sound like a government serious about preventing introduction of drugs and easy access to drugs in the country? I don’t think so; it sounds to me like what it is; another tool for Islamists to use to control the population and the state for Allah (and for themselves).