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Monday, 25 June, 2001, 20:23 GMT 21:23 UK
Iran 'losing war on drugs'
poppy field
Iran is on the heroin supply route from Asia to Europe
By Iranian affairs analyst Sadeq Saba

A senior Iranian official has warned that the government is losing the war on rising drug addiction in the country.

Heroin
The increase in the use of heroin is causing particular concern
The head of the state welfare organisation, Dr Gholam-Reza Ansari, told a press conference that Iran had six million drug users, almost 10% of the country's population.

He expressed particular concern about a sharp rise in the number of drug addicts among women and young people, and the increased use of heroin and other hard drugs.

This is grim news for the Iranian authorities, as it shows that two decades of merciless struggle under one of the toughest anti-drug regime in the world has failed.

In Iran possession of more than 30g of heroin is punishable by the death penalty.

Addicts

Dr Ansari said that there are now 1,200,000 serious addicts in Iran.

He added that the number of drugs users was rising annually by the staggering figure of 600,000, with three times more women than men among new drugs users.

The authorities are also concerned about the rise of drug use among young Iranians -who make up about two-thirds of the country's 65 million population.

Drug addiction is becoming the number one social problem for the Islamic government.

More than 70% of Iran's prison population is behind bars for drug-related offences.

Tehran alone is estimated to consume five tonnes of opium every single day.

Cheap supply

Dr Ansari gave no particular reason for the rising drug use.

But some analysts blame a variety of social and cultural restrictions, including the Islamic ban on alcohol.

Others suggest that because Iran lies on the main drugs transit route from Afghanistan to Europe, there is always a cheap supply available.

Some anti-narcotics officials have also complained that religious leaders are not prepared to take the same tough line against drugs as they do towards alcohol.

Experts have urged the authorities to overhaul their anti-drugs policies and take a more educational approach.

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See also:

06 Jul 00 | Middle East
Drugs and prostitution 'soar' in Iran
19 May 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Border patrol with Iran's drugbusters
17 May 00 | South Asia
Iran seals border in drugs war
20 Dec 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iran
24 Jun 99 | Middle East
Drugs haul from Iranian camel caravan
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