It might be surprising to hear that the number one country in the world consuming illegal drugs is Iran, a nation where opium figured prominently in its history as a painkiller and lucrative crop. In 2015, the Iranian Drug Control Headquarters estimated that 2.8 million of 15‒64 year olds were dependent on illicit drugs, with an average age of opioid dependence of 32 years and average age of initiation of drug use in the early 20s. It is estimated that 67% of these addicts are using opium. With inhaled or injected heroin at 14.32% per capita in this Islamic Republic, this translates to over 2.2 million drug addicts out of a population of 80 million, or 2.75%. So, what is driving this epidemic and drug use and how can we respond as Followers of Christ?
Iran’s 600-mile border with Afghanistan to its east makes it a gateway to Afghanistan’s opium poppy harvest, which produces more than 90% of illicit heroin globally and more than 95% of the European supply. Iran’s strategic location in the Persian Gulf makes it a vital, porous transshipment point for heroin on its way to Western Europe. Despite vast efforts by Iran’s government to intercept, block and seize its entry, approximately 60% of Afghanistan’s opium comes through this nation. It has been estimated that Iranian police confiscate over 1 ton of narcotics a day from smugglers and that 30 drug smugglers and addicts are identified and arrested every hour. Even with these efforts to stop the influx of opium into the nation, Iran has always had its addicts due to its location to Afghanistan and the Islamic stigma against drinking alcohol. Another factor is that opium and its derivatives are cheap, strong, and readily available. Drug addiction has become the ‘other religion’, according to a 2013 article in The Economist
Some of the reasons for the drug epidemic include economic stagnation brought about by international sanctions, inflation, family dysfunction, torn marriages, financial ruin, emotional turmoil, social frustration, unhappiness, immobility of the population, drug availability, and unemployment. And drug addiction is affecting all segments of society from the educated to the uneducated and from the homeless and poor to the affluent and everyone in between. With a daily supply of opium costing as little as $1, it is no wonder that the population is turning to it as a way to feel better and forget about life.
For example, according to a 2016 LA Times article, Shabanali Mirshekar, a violinist from northeast Iran, stated that opium ‘made me forget all my troubles.’ This is what GCM hears over and over in reports. Many Iranians are depressed and hopeless. However, just as in Shabanali’s case, where his addiction led to separation from his wife and life in a hostel for musicians in a crime-ridden part of southern Tehran, it only makes matters worse. Despite all the law enforcement (there is even the death penalty for drug users and dealers inside Iran), thousands of rehabilitation clinics and detoxification centers, the problem of drug addiction continues to grow steadily without an end in sight.
As a result, Muslims inside this nation, and surrounding ones, are realizing that the Islamic state, which promises a better life, is far from a reality. The fruit of the last 40 years under Islamic control has only produced greater hopelessness among its inhabitants. We hope this information helps you understand the depth of depravity inside this country and compels you all the more to pray.
But there is good news—God is moving mightily in this nation and setting people free of their addictions as they come to Christ. At GCM, we are committed to reaching the broken and bringing the gospel with compassion to such as these. Pray for us to reach more hurting and broken people today with the love and salvation of Christ.
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