Mandatory Drug Camps for Addicts Unsuccessful

Today, every Iranian city and even many towns and villages, have methadone clinics, rehabilitation centers and “detox camps”
 As per official figures, there are 1.3 million addicts in the country, 10% of whom are women. As per official figures, there are 1.3 million addicts in the country, 10% of whom are women.

The Majlis (parliament) Joint Commission studying the upcoming Sixth Five-Year Economic and Social Development Plan (2016-2021) ratified an amendment to article 26 of the relevant bill on October 31. It tasks the government to set up compulsory accommodation and rehabilitation camps for street addicts in cooperation with municipalities.  

The State Welfare Organization or the NGOs approved by the SWO will be in charge of the camps. The Law Enforcement Forces will be responsible to round up drug abusers with the help of legal warrants and transfer them to the camps. The LEF and legal authorities will have the final say about the release of the inmates from the camps.

However, the amendment has been criticized by social activists and experts on drug addiction who say the measure is retrograde in addressing social harm.

Abbas Deilamizadeh, director of the NGO Rebirth Society, founded in 1999 by a group of former drug users which has expanded to more than 100 service centers around the country, has objected on the grounds that “it will be a waste of taxpayer’s money.”

“Why should public money be spent on a project that experience proves to be ineffective, and make matters more complicated,” he asked, as quoted by the Persian daily ‘Iran.”

The idea of compulsory camps for drug addicts was practiced in the 1980s and 1990s, but did not produce favorable results, he said.

Around the time, the authorities began sending heroin and opium addicts to mandatory rehab camps, where the emphasis was on detoxification through complete abstinence. Upon being discharged after sentences that averaged two months, many addicts were desperate to resume drug use, making them prone to repeat arrests and camp detentions.

“The camps were often counterproductive. Desperate to calm their cravings, inmates were known to smuggle in drugs. Faced with the limited availability of drugs and syringes, many turned to sharing needles to inject smuggled heroin. Not only were opium smokers transformed into heroin addicts, many also contracted hepatitis C and HIV during their time in camps or the prison system. A prison study in the major provincial cities of Kerman, Shiraz and Kermanshah in 1995 found HIV rates of 5-8% among drug-using inmates,” says a report in

After attempts to run the camps proved futile, the plans were finally abandoned.

Later, appropriate projects tested and trialed in developed countries (rehab programs) were introduced. “These projects have proved fruitful in Iran and we must not step backwards now,” stressed Deilamizadeh.   

Pointing to reports by the Iran Drug Control Headquarters, he said a large number of addicts work in the industrial sector which does not provide any social support to the addicts. It is said that 21% of industrial workers suffer from substance abuse.

“The mandatory rehab camp plan is basically unmethodical and anti-therapeutic, but if lawmakers insist on taking measures without learning from past experience, then the industrial sector should also be held accountable,” he noted.

In 2006, Rebirth launched a one-year training course on chemical dependency for counselors, and currently many of the 1000 counselors who have graduated from this course are providing services in drug treatment and harm reduction throughout the country.

The Women’s Drug Therapeutic Center set up in 2010 and located in Tehran’s Chitgar neighborhood, is affiliated to the NGO and provides treatment and rehabilitation services to women drug users.

According to Deilamizadeh, many drug users are encouraged to enter the rehabilitation programs thanks to the use of peer education, an approach to health promotion in which community members are supported to promote health-enhancing change among their peers. It involves teaching or sharing of health information, values and behavior in educating others who may share similar social backgrounds or life experiences.

  More Responsibility on Municipalities

Salman Khodadadi, head of the Majlis Social Commission, however, points out that the municipalities do spend part of their budget on rounding up and treating street addicts, and the new amendment only seeks to pin more responsibility on them.   

“Even in Europe municipalities are responsible to round up and organize vulnerable populations.” There is no better alternative for cleaning up the city than rounding up homeless drug abusers and putting them in mandatory rehab camps.

Once the amendment is ratified in the Majlis open session, municipalities will be officially put in charge of street addicts.  

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.

  Harm Reduction Practices Progressive

Maziyar Ghiabi, a PhD student at Oxford University, whose research focuses on the phenomenology and politics of drugs, addiction and drug policy in Iran, says Iran has introduced some of the most progressive practices of addiction treatment and rehabilitation, including what is usually referred to as harm reduction, since the early 2000s.

Harm reduction is a set of practices aimed at reducing the harm of illicit drugs, through a humanitarian and philanthropic approach to drug users. It includes the provision of clean needles and syringes to injecting drug users (also in prison).

Today, every Iranian city and even many towns and villages, have methadone clinics, rehabilitation centers and “detox camps”, to which people seeking support or medical treatment can resort to. NGOs are also active at the margins of the cities providing clean syringes and limited everyday medical care for street addicts, he says.

Street addicts in Tehran are periodically rounded up and sent to compulsory treatment centers for a period of one to three months, for example, after which they are back on the streets. “The mechanisms of these interventions are complex deserving more attention.”

According to statistics, there are nearly 100 NGOs in the campaign against narcotics and specifically work 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.

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