Iran’s surprisingly progressive approach to addiction:
Iran’s theocratic government has encouraged and financed a vast expansion in the number of drug treatment centers to help users confront their addictions and to combat the spread of H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, through shared needles.
The center in central Tehran, which is called Congress 60 and is run by a private nonprofit agency, is one of 600 centers that provide drug treatment across the country with help from government money. An additional 1,250 centers offer methadone, free needles and other services for addicts who are not ready to quit, including food and treatment for H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted infections.
Iran’s government, trying to curb addiction’s huge social costs, has been more supportive of drug treatment than any other government in the Islamic world, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
It was not always this way. After the 1979 revolution, the government tried a more traditional approach: arresting drug users and putting them in jail.
But two decades later, it recognized that this approach had failed. A sharp increase in the crime rate and the number of people infected with H.I.V., both directly linked to a surge in narcotics use, persuaded the government to shift strategies.
“We have realized that an addict is a social reality,” said Muhammad-Reza Jahani, the vice president for the Committee Combating Drugs, which coordinates the government’s efforts to fight drug addiction and trafficking. “We don’t want to fight addicts; we want to fight addiction. We need to manage addiction.”