A crack epidemic is devastating the poverty-stricken Arab Al-Ahwaz region of Iran, with credible reports suggesting that the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) are behind the manufacture and distribution of the deadly and highly addictive opiate in the region.
Addiction rates are skyrocketing amongst young people in the region which is already afflicted by massive poverty and unemployment, despite housing over 95 per cent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran since the military annexation of Al-Ahwaz in 1925.
The IRGC is believed to be encouraging the spread of the drug in powder and “rock” form as a means of driving the region’s young people towards self-destructive addiction rather than directing their energies towards any involvement in political activism against the regime.
According to Ahwazi activists, many crack houses have appeared in recent years, with police targeting those who report their illicit activities while avoiding taking action against the drug manufacturing and distribution networks themselves. Drug dealers openly peddle the ultra-cheap narcotics on street corners, in parks and in public areas with no effort from the police to stop them.
The authorities’ de facto encouragement of the drug epidemic has strengthened suspicions amongst activists that the regime, which is quick to arrest any political dissident or human rights activists and to brutally crackdown on any protests, is keen to encourage addiction as a means of pacifying and subjugating young Ahwazis, diverting their energy towards self-destruction.
Speaking to MEMO on condition of anonymity, a local Ahwazi Arab activist said that the drugs trade is also a lucrative income source for the IRGC. He went on to claim the IRGC has established many clandestine labs manufacturing large quantities of the addictive narcotic. The activist further claimed that the Revolutionary Guards are smuggling large quantities of crack across the border into Iraq, adding that the regime is treating young Arab Ahwazis as “lab rats” as a way of assessing the addictive potential of its deadly narcotic produce before shipping it to other countries in the region.
One recovering addict, who has been clean of the drug for two years, said that he first became addicted after having to drop out of university. “I was studying law. I ended up unable to pay my tuition fees and had to drop out of university,” he explained, adding that this led to a spiraling depression which led him to try to numb his pain through drugs.
I ended up as an addict for two years. I was sinking into a total depression and grief because of not being able to continue my education, and losing hope of marrying my girlfriend. I began buying crack as an escape. It was and still is very cheap. The drugs made me and everyone else on them very happy, you’d see life as wonderful while you were high.
“I lost all my appetite. I weighed 113 kilos before I started on crack. Within a year, my weight dropped to 48. I couldn’t eat. In the end, two of my younger brothers locked me in a room and brought me herbal medicines. It was hellish for the first few days going through the withdrawal symptoms, but after that, I started to feel better, but the effects of the addiction are still powerful – it destroyed my memory, my teeth are decayed and broken. I have terrible swelling of my intestines…” He broke down crying for a moment before taking a deep breath, and continuing, “The Iranian regime destroyed my life. They are enemies of Ahwazi Arabs. I feel like I just woke up. I will fight. I will never give up.”
The addiction runs rampant among women in Al-Ahwaz as Iranian authorities hide true figures. Despite numerous reports issued by the local media warning against ignoring the spread of drug use among young Ahwazis, the trend has only escalated. Now another dilemma presents itself – namely the lack of treatment and rehabilitation centres to address such addiction. This vacuum of care only exacerbates the situation and neglects the needs of those who have fallen victim to addiction.
Today, the issue of drug addiction has grown into one of the most vexing challenges faced by Ahwazis amid an array of pressing global issues such as widespread poverty, population crisis and environmental degradation.
According to Iran’s official figures, there are more than 150,000 people addicted to drugs in the province of Al-Ahwaz, though other sources have estimated even higher figures. Even the lowest estimates show the magnitude of drug addiction among Ahwazi Arab people in the region, signaling extensive risks to their health.
Faranak Moussawi, director of women’s affairs in the province, says a frustrating aspect is that an accurate estimate of how many women are struggling with addiction in the region is unknown. This is due to the fact that Iranian authorities do not publish official statistics regarding women and addiction. Moussawi claims that the number of female drug addicts is no less than one per cent of the region’s total population. However exact numbers are hard to gather, as most women are afraid of disclosing their drug use – fearing harsh reactions from family and society.
The official says that most of the women who come for treatment at the drug rehabilitation centre admit that they have only just recently developed the habit in the past two years, which Moussawi sees as a sign that drugs are becoming more available in the region.
“The number of women addicts is about 9.3 per cent of the total addict population in the region,” said Mohammadi, director of the Social Pathology and Prevention in Al-Ahwaz. “The real figure may be higher than this because most women hide their drug abuse and are unwilling to report it to the authorities. In years passed, the percentage of women addicted to drugs was less than four per cent of the total addict population in the province. Unfortunately today, the figure has now doubled that,” he added.
Mohammadi also believes that secondary schools, industrial zones, impoverished families, universities, marginalized communities, and neglected areas are more vulnerable to the threat of drug prevalence and therefore serious attention should be paid to these locations by the state.
Currently, there is only one centre in the entire region that provides drug abuse treatment for women wishing to quit substance use. This centre is managed and financed privately by individuals, without any funding from the government. The centre, therefore, charges clients seeking treatment about 600,000 Tomans ($179).
The trade and use of illegal drugs has become a phenomenon in Al-Ahwaz, where substances like crack, heroine and morphine are easy to purchase for young people. In many places, it has become cheaper than fruits, but unlike fruits, drugs are widely available in all seasons. For this reason, the proportion of drug addicts in Ahwaz, according to some official statistics is the highest among the younger generation.
The Iranian regime’s alleged “fight against drug trafficking” is pure propaganda, as the regime is deeply implicated in both sides of the deadly trade, says Yaser Asadi, a London-based Ahwazi rights activist from Iran. While the regime covers up its involvement in the drug trade with some high-profile arrests and executions, these actions target only the small-scale drug dealers.
Meanwhile, the regime benefits from both ends of the deadly commerce: Inside Iran’s domestic market, the state-driven drug trade nets hefty profits, while trapping Iranian youth in drug addiction, diverting them from engaging in civil life and becoming potential political opponents that could one day threaten the regime.
“Internationally, the regime earns billions in hard foreign currencies from its trafficking operations, which helps bankroll the growing network of toxic sectarian proxy forces that enable it to pursue its expansionist agenda, inflicting instability and destruction across the region,” Asadi explains.
But Iran’s illicit drug industry is the gift that keeps on giving, as the regime shores up its efforts to destabilise its Arab neighbours in general, and the Gulf States in particular, not only by drug-financing for its proxy forces, bombs and other weapons, but also by marketing its “product” to youth across the region. Iran’s leading proxy force, Hezbollah, plays a key role in implementing this strategy on the ground, particularly in states already destabilised by Iranian-backed military actions. Both the Iranian regime and Hezbollah have exploited the deteriorating situation in Syria, Iraq and Yemen to manufacture narcotics, which enable them to continue the cycle of opiating the potentially militant youth and further financing military adventurism.
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