Given Iran’s reputation for dispensing harsh justice, it surprised us to learn that the country is home to a thriving crystal-meth industry—one so big, in fact, that it’s now exporting to Southeast Asia. As the United Nations graph at right makes clear, use of the drug (locally known as shisheh, or glass) has exploded since 2004. An Iranian expat gives a first-hand account of the problem here:
Every time I come to Iran I am shocked by the rather open and public use and sale of illicit drugs. The main reason I can think of why this might be is sheer numbers. There are just too many to round up. Last time I was in Tehran, the area where Naser Khosrow empties into Tupkhuneh was practically an open-air drug market in broad daylight. People would first approach and ask if I needed prescription drugs, then “shisheh” (crystal meth), then ecstasy. Right next to a ministry building of all places! A few days later I was walking along the Parkway towards Velenjak and I happened to peek up at the hillside which has some tree and brush cover. There might have been 10-15 people shooting up there.
A 2007 piece claims that a gram of crystal goes for $120 in Tehran, which makes it a drug of the rich—quite a reversal from the situation in the U.S., where meth is commonly considered a cheap alternative to cocaine.
The question now is “why?” Iran obviously has the right demographics for soaring drug use—an exceedingly young population, high unemployment, but also a developing middle class looking to fill some spiritual or intellectual holes (or just fill up some free time). But we also feel that the regime is loath to even admit there’s a problem, as they view drugs—and meth in particular—as something only decadent Westerners could ever fall for. Mounting a public campaign against illicit drugs would first require admitting there’s a problem. And so the regime totters on, willfully oblivious to the toll.