Iran’s Flawed Statistics and Growing Drug Addiction

Iranian police display Afghan opium seized inside Iran.

Iranian police display Afghan opium seized inside Iran.

“This means a human capital disaster in the country.” 

Iran has dealt with a long history of drug addiction.  For centuries, Iranians openly cultivated opium and used it both medicinally and recreationally.  In the first decade of the 20th century, Iran participated in a number of international opium conferences to try to reduce and regulate the opium trade.  Because addiction was so great, however, it sought to slowly devolve access rather than end it precipitously.  In the years immediately prior to the revolution, clerics pointed to the prevalence of opium addiction to societal corruption under the shah and promised a new, cleaner order. 

After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the clerical leadership took Draconian measures to end drug addiction.  Imprisonment and public execution of addicts and traffickers became commonplace.   It did not work.  Opium cultivation exploded in Afghanistan against the backdrop of the Soviet invasion, civil war, and state failure.  Iran became both a transit and consumer country as Afghan drug smugglers struck deals with corrupt Iranian clerics and security officials.  Ultimately, the Ministry of Health formed a counternarcotics headquarters and the high-level Expediency Council established the Independent Committee against Drugs and Narcotics to combat addiction.

In the excerpted interview from prominent reformist newspaper Aftab-e Yazd, Ali Hashemi, the former chairman of the Independent Committee, discusses the latest statistics on addiction and abuse.  His assessment is that the Islamic Republic’s ninth government, which correlates to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s second term, corrupted statistics.  In the article, Hashemi shows that, contrary to the Ahmadinejad-era claims, the rate of addiction has increased steadily.  Unstated but underlying his interview is technocratic disdain for the denial of reality inside the Islamic Republic under hardline administrations.  While he references the lack of current statistics, he omits mention that the current Iranian administration of Ebrahim Raisi is rooted, like Ahmadinejad’s, more in the camp of hardliners.  Regardless, Iranian government efforts to stamp out addiction have clearly failed.  Hashemi expresses special concern that the recent increase in drug addiction is among the young.  This has profound implications both for society and the military. It both suggests that many young Iranians have given up hope for their future, suggests problems with both crime and health loom, and can affect military readiness (see “Iran’s Revolutionary Guards To Expand Drug Treatment Center,” OE Watch, Issue 8, 2022).


“Faz-e Jadid Markaz-e Daman-e Shahid Ziadian bezudi Ahdas Mishavad (The Old Wound of Addiction in Iran and the 800 Million Rial Cost Per Addict Each Year),” Aftab-e Yazd (prominent reformist newspaper published in Yasd), 31 July 2022.زخم-کهنه-اعتیاد-در-ایران-و-خسارت–۸۰۰-میلیونی-هر-معتاد-به-کشور-در-سال.html 

[Former chairman of the Expediency Council’s Independent Committee against Drugs and Narcotics] Ali Hashemi, while examining the status of addiction in the country and Iran’s performance in the field of countering narcotics and reducing the rate of addiction, says, “In the strategic study of addiction status in the country… there are two basic indicators based on the prevalence rate of addiction and the incidence rate of addiction, according to which we can comment on the performance of the country, the current situation and future approaches in the field of addiction.”  

In this regard, he provides statistical indicators of the state of addiction in the country and adds, “In the year 1987-88, there were two million drug users in the country.  In 2004-2005, an addiction study was carried out in coordination with the cooperation of the Headquarters of the Fight against Narcotics and the Ministry of Health.  This study placed the number of users at 3.76 million. 

The Drug Control Headquarters of the ninth government [2012-2016] placed the prevalence of addiction in the country at 800,000 drug users, but because the statistics were not correct, they had to correct these statistics and, two years later, the Drug Control Headquarters announced there were 1.2 million consumers in the country.  This too was wrong and based on manipulated statistics but, in 2015, the then-Secretary General of the Headquarters was forced to announce the statistics so that the total number of consumers was 4.4 million. 

The former secretary general of the country’s drug control headquarters, citing the existing statistics on the incidence of addiction, continues, “Currently, the official statistics are that 4.4 million Iranians use drugs, among whom 2.8 million are addicts and the others occasional recreational users. Of course, we don’t have the statistics from 2015 to the present, however. Still, the statistics show that in just one decade, from 2005 to 2015, the number of drug used increased by 630,000 people. 

Hashemi notes, “Unfortunately, so far, scientific research has not been conducted in a comprehensive way at the national level but, what is known, is that according to official statistics, from 2005 to 2015, the number of consumers has increased from 3.76 million to 4.40 million people, which means that the number of new people came from the “young” stratum.  This means a human capital disaster in the country…. 

Hashemi continues, “If we want to consider only this one indicator [arrests], it shows the depth of its tragedy, i.e. in the last 43 years, of the approximately 19 million people arrested, 65 percent of them were directly and indirectly (including repeat offenders) related to drug offenses.” 

Image Information:

Image: Iranian police display Afghan opium seized inside Iran 
Source: Islamic Republic News Agency (Government)
Attribution: Public Domain