Addict (drugaddict) wrote,

Hossein, a 50-year-old doctor who has now

Iran faces up to its most lethal threat - drugs
>>One in 17 people are addicted, but groups such
>>as Narcotics Anonymous are fighting back
>>Robert Tait in Tehran
>>Thursday October 27, 2005
>>The Guardian
>>The longed for pilgrimage to Mecca should have
>>been enough to give Hasan, a devout Muslim, a
>>spiritual high. But even while paying homage to
>>the Prophet Muhammad, he needed a little help
>>from a friend. "When I went on the haj, I put a
>>lump of opium inside my walking stick," he
>>says, clicking open the fold-up device to show
>>how he concealed the contraband. "I went abroad
>>like that many times, to Mecca, Turkey and
>>elsewhere. I was carrying the best quality
>>opium. I was financially well-off, so I could
>>afford it."
>>Article continues
>>The drug-hazed trip to Islam's holiest shrine
>>was the moral nadir of Hasan's 30-year battle
>>with addiction, which, he says, left him
>>socially stigmatised and emotionally alienated
>>from his wife and sons. The physical signs of a
>>titanic internal struggle against his need to
>>take opium five times a day are manifest in the
>>tell-tale bulbous black bags beneath his eyes.
>>But now he has found redemption. Aged 80, he is
>>the oldest living success story of Narcotics
>>Anonymous, a rapidly growing grassroots
>>movement confronting Iran's addiction level -
>>an epidemic defined by United Nations Office on
>>Drugs and Crime (UNODC) statistics as the worst
>>in the world - through a nationwide network of
>>open-air counselling sessions.
>>According to the UNODC, more than 4 million of
>>Iran's 70 million people are addicted to drugs,
>>and the addiction cuts across educational,
>>class, age and economic barriers. Middle-aged
>>professionals and academics are as vulnerable
>>as under-educated, socially deprived teenagers,
>>say experts.
>>Through a cathartic blend of advice, prayers
>>and no-holds-barred confessionals, Narcotics
>>Anonymous is offering an escape. Every night at
>>10pm, thousands of recovering addicts meet in
>>public parks throughout Iran to exchange tales
>>of shared agonies. Bonding them is the
>>determination never again to yield to the
>>tyranny of addiction, a goal attainable,
>>according to the group's dictum, only through
>>total abstinence.
>>Gathered in a semi-circle under a moonless
>>night sky, the 40 or so men in Tehran's
>>Barzegar park could have been mistaken for a
>>group of amateur star-gazers. But the
>>impassioned speeches, random hugging and
>>spontaneous outbreaks of applause attested to
>>the earthly nature of their concerns.
>>In this meeting, one of the nightly gathering's
>>most seasoned participants stood up and
>>recounted how he conquered his addiction. He
>>told his fellow-gatherers they could only
>>achieve the same if they admitted their sins
>>before God. The gathering then joined in a
>>"comfort prayer", asking for the strength to
>>overcome their drug habits. Established
>>members, deemed to be "clean", were then
>>assigned as spiritual counsellors to recruits
>>seeking a cure.
>>Hasan, who owns a laundry business in Tehran,
>>discovered the sessions through his driver, an
>>opium addict. Having cleaned up his act, Hasan
>>is now a mentor to the afflicted. "I have
>>cleaned up this entire commercial
>>neighbourhood," he says, gesturing to the
>>street. "The owners of nearly all the shops
>>round here, the housing agency, the baker, the
>>butcher, the florist, were addicts until I took
>>them to the meetings. As the oldest member, I
>>am an inspiration for other addicts."
>>Hossein, a 50-year-old doctor who has now
>>recovered from a 12-year heroin addiction, was
>>persuaded to attend following two months' jail
>>for possession. "I had hit rock bottom. When I
>>first went to the meetings, I remember it was
>>hard to admit my addiction and express myself.
>>I was scared. Now, I get drug addicts coming to
>>me for prescriptions for morphine, opium or
>>tranquillisers. I only write the prescriptions
>>on condition that they go to the sessions."
>>Sheer necessity has dictated that sessions be
>>held outside; demand for Narcotics Anonymous
>>meetings has far outstripped available
>>accommodation since the group began organising
>>in Iran in the mid-1990s. With membership now
>>above 30,000, the group holds 2,200 weekly
>>meetings, the vast majority outdoors, in 183
>>Iranian towns and cities.
>>Meeting outside has led to some up-lifting
>>human triumphs. In Mashhad, in north-east Iran,
>>a man who had been sleeping in a park was drawn
>>to the large gathering nearby and eventually
>>joined up. He had been one of Iran's leading
>>architects but had lost his status through drug
>>addiction. Through the meetings, he recovered
>>and eventually returned to his former
>>professional life.
>>The group has encountered tolerance from
>>officials. "When the police come across our
>>outdoor meetings, they leave us alone," said
>>Siyamak, 47, now one of Narcotics Anonymous'
>>leading Iranian organisers after kicking his
>>heroin addiction. "Normally, mass public
>>gatherings in Iran would be seen as political
>>and a threat. It shows they respect us."
>>Equally unlikely liberal traits are apparent in
>>other facets of Iran's response to its drugs
>>crisis. These include officially approved
>>needle exchange programmes to prevent the
>>spread of Aids, prescription of the heroin
>>substitute methadone, and the distribution of
>>condoms to promote safe sex. It is a marked
>>departure from the previous approach, when
>>addicts were incarcerated in often inhumane
>>conditions in so-called rehabilitation centres.
>>"They have reached the stage where they can no
>>longer have a hostile reaction to this
>>phenomenon," said Behrouz Meshkini, a
>>consultant on drug addiction, instrumental in
>>introducing Narcotics Anonymous to Iran. "It is
>>a recognition that the approach of arresting
>>addicts and putting them in jail has failed.
>>The key to Narcotics Anonymous' success is its
>>independence. It is the only truly independent
>>NGO in Iran."
>>Iran is being overwhelmed by a pincer movement
>>of drugs flowing in through its eastern and
>>western borders, as well as its southern sea
>>ports. Enormous quantities of opium and heroin
>>are smuggled from the east - Afghanistan,
>>Pakistan and former Soviet republics such as
>>Turkmenistan. Compounding this is an influx of
>>hallucinogenic and chemical-based drugs, such
>>as ecstasy, from Turkey and through the Iranian
>>port of Bandar Abbas.
>>Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, more than
>>2.6 million Iranians have been arrested on drug
>>offences. Almost half the prison population is
>>serving time for narcotic-related crimes.
>>Iran's police and security forces have been
>>fighting a losing war against the smugglers. In
>>2003, the country's anti-drug forces seized 220
>>tonnes of drugs, reckoned by the UN to be just
>>a fraction of the amount entering the country.
>>Since the revolution, about 3,200 members of
>>the security forces have been killed in clashes
>>with traffickers.
>>For this grim landscape of addiction, the
>>regime has found a convenient scapegoat: the
>>US, Britain and other western countries with
>>forces in Afghanistan, are blamed for failing
>>to stamp out opium and heroin production there.
>>Independent experts see it differently. "We
>>have a traditionally positive attitude in Iran
>>towards opium," says Mr Meshkini. "But the main
>>problem is the sense of depression and
>>disappointment that exists, especially among
>>the youth. A young Iranian is under much more
>>pressure than a young man in, say, Austria,
>>Switzerland or England. Young people here have
>>obstacles to education, finding jobs or getting
The damage done

>>Iran has the highest rate of heroin and opium
>>addiction per head of population in the world,
>>according to the UN: one in 17 is a regular
>>user and 20% of the Iranian population aged
>>15-60 is involved in drug abuse
>>There are an estimated 500,000 drug dealers in
>>Iran, circulating narcotics with an estimated
>>street value of £1.7bn to £2.83bn
>>Drug abuse is the main factor behind 60% of
>>divorces in Iran, according to a survey
>>Official government figures estimate that
>>illegal drugs cost the Iranian economy £630m in
>>More than 3,200 Iranian law enforcers have been
>>killed in clashes with drug traffickers since
>>1979. In 2003, officers seized 220 tonnes of
>>drugs, up 54% on the previous year.
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