From Punishment to Harm Reduction: Resecularization of Addiction in Contemporary Iran

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Contemporary Iran: Economy, Society, Politics




Drug addiction; Drug treatment programs; Substance abuse


© Oxford University Press, 2014. This chapter analyzes the issue of addiction. It argues that after the Revolution the treatment of substance abuse began to be seen by the government outside the previously held medical paradigm. In accordance with the government's new standards of morality, which were drawn along the Islamic religious precepts, and in accordance with new ideological rhetoric, stringent antidrug campaigns were launched; elements of these campaigns included the fining of addicts, imprisonment, physical punishment, and even the death penalty for serious offenses. Substance-abuse specialists from the medical community-no longer benefiting from government support-were marginalized and treatment centers were closed. Despite these measures (and in tandem with the Iran- Iraq War, political repression, and a deteriorating economy), the drug problem continued to grow, with the number of addicts increasing rapidly. In the early 1990s, as the more pragmatic Rafsanjani came to power, the government began to take a less doctrinaire approach to substance abuse. The chapter explores the history of this shift in policy, beginning with the early days of treatment policy in the Qajar and Pahlavi periods through the early postrevolutionary governments in Iran, and finally to the current crystallization of the harm-reduction treatment model exemplified by community-sponsored methadone and bupenorphine-addition drug-treatment programs.

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