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Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 14:54 GMT 15:54 UK
Iran clamps down on drugs
Heroin and needles
There are about 1.2 million serious addicts in Iran
By Jim Muir in Tehran

As Iran marks the International Day Against Drug Abuse, it has been announced that 3,000 addicts and dealers have been arrested in the capital, Tehran, over the past three days.

Iran straddles a major drug smuggling route from Afghanistan to the West.

But there is growing concern over increasing drug use in Iranian society itself, and over the associated spread of the Aids virus.

Poppy field
Iran is on the heroin supply route from Asia to Europe
Iran has been taking some radical steps to try to eradicate drug abuse.

Earlier this year, a slum area of east Tehran - notorious as a drug centre - was simply bulldozed, and five alleged ringleaders were publicly hanged.

A new cultural and sports complex is being inaugurated in the same place.

But the man in charge of Iran's campaign against drugs - General Mohammed Fallah - has no illusions that narcotics abuse can be wiped out by such physical measures.

He believes that only a wide-ranging sustained campaign of public information, linked to serious efforts to tackle the social roots of the problem, will bring real results.

Addiction rates

In the meantime, addiction rates in Iranian society are growing alarmingly. According to official figures there are 1.2 million serious addicts and nearly a million occasional users, though other estimates go as high as six million users.

Recent reports indicate that drug abuse is spreading particularly rapidly among women and young people and in rural areas.

Iran's jails are overflowing with drug related criminals.

There is rising concern, too, over the spread of the HIV virus among addicted inmates sharing needles - so much so that one Tehran newspaper has called for free syringes to be distributed.

Afghan route

Iran has taken drastic measures to stop the flow of narcotics across its eastern border from Afghanistan.

More than 3,000 Iranian law enforcement personnel have been killed in the war with smugglers.

But it has had little effect in stemming the flow.

Iranian officials take some comfort from reports that cultivation of opium poppies inside Afghanistan has dropped sharply.

They are taking steps to help the Afghan farmers grow viable substitute crops.

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See also:

25 Jun 01 | Middle East
Iran 'losing war on drugs'
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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