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Rounding Up No Solution to Substance Abuse

The problem of drug addiction will exist as long as poverty, unemployment, huge pockets of unofficial settlements and widespread substance trade and trafficking continue
 There are 1.3 million addicts in the country. Of the total, around 100,000 are said to be high-risk street junkies. There are 1.3 million addicts in the country. Of the total, around 100,000 are said to be high-risk street junkies.

A new phase of clearing Tehran streets of drug abusers has begun and 1,057 addicts have been rounded up and sent to treatment centers.

“The move had to be restarted because addicts who were rounded up earlier and treated for addiction have gone back to their old ways and returned to the streets,” the Persian Daily ‘Sharq’ reported, quoting  Mohammad Reza Azarnia, head of the Coordinating Council of Iran’s Drug Control Headquarters (DCHQ).

“But we will continue with our efforts to round up at least 6,000 addicts,” said Azarnia adding that the Tehran Municipality (TM) has agreed to let in all addicts at their treatment facilities.  

Last year, 9,760 street addicts were detained in a similar move that apparently proved futile. Critics of the plan maintain that resorting “to such fruitless measures” will not help address the problem. At present, drug addicts who are rounded up are sent to mandatory rehabilitation camps, where they are forced to kick the habit. Once they quit they are released again without any sort of support.

“The outcome of the measure should be first studied to evaluate its effectiveness before setting out to reintroduce it,” said Leila Arshad, a social worker who heads the Khaneh-Khorshid (literally Sun House) women’s charity.

But Azarnia pointed to a number of changes in the present phase of the plan. “The fingerprints of the substance users will be taken and stored in a database so that if they go back to substance use and are nabbed again, they will be considered as criminals liable for arrest and prison.”

While this measure has been welcomed, critics say the authorities should go a step further and register all the personal information as well as identify their skills or capabilities, if any, so as to single out what specific methods will ameliorate the plight of drug addicts.

Nevertheless, social workers express doubts whether legal action against drug users will help in their rehabilitation.

  Holistic Approach Needed

“The idea of arresting addicts has already been tried and tested. But it has resulted in their infection with HIV and hepatitis in jails, instead of recovery,” said Arshad. A holistic approach along with specialists’ opinion and experience of other countries is essential to devise an effective plan.

She stressed that the intervention of the judiciary will not help resolve the worsening problem of drug addiction as long as poverty, unemployment, huge pockets of unofficial settlements and widespread substance trade and trafficking continues.  

Azarnia, however, says that cleansing city streets of addicts is in the national interest and “there is no magic formula to satisfy everybody.”

The IDCH has held numerous meetings with Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, the prosecutor general of Tehran, in this regard. The last session was attended by medical university authorities who agreed to increase the capacity of their drop-in-centers to 3,000 and allow drug addicts to stay until at least 6:00 pm in five of the centers.  

“With the current capacities, this is all we can do for now,” Azarnia said.

The IDCH has also looked at all the existing potentials to create jobs for rehabilitated drug users. “We created 500 vacancies for them but had no applicants,” he said noting that recovered addicts do not seem to want to work.

But Arshad says that the right jobs and places should be found for each of these cases.

She pointed to the case of a man who was to work as a gardener in a public park after rehabilitation but refused on the grounds that he couldn’t take up the job at the place where he used to hangout and use drugs, and feared he would likely come across his old comrades.

“He could not accept the job for fear of relapse,” she said.

As per official figures, there are 1.3 million addicts in the country, 10% of whom are women. Of the total, around 100,000 are said to be high-risk street junkies.

The adoption of a community-based approach is the main strategy pursued by the government at the current juncture. This approach has paved the way for the participation of various social groups as well as people from different walks of life in the campaign against narcotics.

According to the latest statistics, there are nearly 100 NGOs specifically working to help address the increasing challenges addicts face. They provide commendable services at drop in-centers and outreach programs accessing hard-to-reach drug users in many parts of the country, while playing an active role in advocacy and raising awareness in support of drug control.

 

Financialtribune.com