Confiscated opium in Iran

Confiscated opium displayed in Zahedan, Iran, on May 20, 2009, a time when the UN praised Iran for curbing the flow of smuggled heroin from Afghanistan and helping keep the drug off Western streets.

Credit:

Caren Firouz/Reuters

The number of drug addicts in Iran has more than doubled in six years, with opium the country's most popular narcotic, local media reported Sunday.

"There are about 2.8 million people regularly consuming drugs" in the country of 80 million people, Drug Control Organization spokesman Parviz Afshar told the ISNA news agency.

Citing experts from the health ministry, Iran's Welfare Organization and his own agency, Afshar said the number of drug users was up from 1.3 million six years ago.

He said opium made up 67 percent of consumption, with marijuana and its derivatives accounting for 12 percent and methamphetamine around 8 percent of the total. 

"Opium is still the most popular [drug] and methamphetamine use has dropped significantly," he said.

Iran's neighbor Afghanistan produces some 90 percent of the world's opium, which is extracted from poppy resin and refined to make heroin.

Iran is a major transit point for Afghan-produced opiates heading to Europe and beyond.

Opium production surged significantly after the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and overthrew the ruling Taliban.

Related: The US has waged a $7.6 billion drug war in Afghanistan, and now the problem is worse than ever

By its last year in power, the Taliban had slashed opium output to just 185 metric tons a year, according to United Nations estimates.

But the UN says Afghan production has since rocketed, hitting between 4,800 and 6,000 tons in 2016.

Last year's bumper crop, aided by better weather, pushed world opium output up by a third on the previous year and helped fund an intensifying Taliban insurgency.

That is despite a decade of international efforts to stabilize the country and billions of dollars spent on persuading Afghan farmers to grow other crops. 

The UN's crime and drugs agency said Thursday that the global narcotics market is "thriving" with opiates causing tens of thousands of avoidable deaths a year.

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