Cheap, widely available, and used by students and housewives alike, crystal meth is taking the Iranian capital by storm. The author of a new book about the country reports on an addiction that even the repressive regime is struggling to control
“What economic crisis? Business is good,” Bijan winks as he flashes his big, gap-toothed smile.
Bijan is a cook and dealer of sheesh –Crystal meth for sale – which has exploded on the Iranian drug market and, for the first time, overtaken heroin to become the country’s second most popular drug (opium still tops the list). Meth production in the country has been expanding at an astonishing rate. According to a 2013 study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the Iranian government first reported the manufacture of the drug just six years ago, when four production facilities were seized. By 2012, though, Iran was the world’s fourth-highest importer of pseudoephedrine, the main precursor chemical used in the production of crystal meth. Research carried out by the State Welfare Organisation shows that over half a million Tehranis between the ages of 15 and 45 have used it at least once.
The country’s drug problem is not new; Iran has one of the highest rates of addiction in the world and the interior minister, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, announced recently that some six million Iranians are affected by problems related to drug addiction.
In Tehran, drugs are everywhere. At one popular spot north of the city, queues of cars pull up to be served under a motorway flyover. Dealers trade on a layby with lookouts and security dotted around them. The peak time is 2 am and all are catered for. Cocaine has become a regular feature at parties among Tehran’s richer residents; young people throughout the city smoke marijuana and pop ecstasy pills; opium – viewed as an older person’s drug – is still widely considered to be culturally acceptable. In seedy corners of south Tehran, addicts gather to inject heroin, as they always have done. But when crystal meth hit the streets it managed to transcend social divides and could be found everywhere in the city.
In a graffiti-daubed side street in the center of Tehran, a teenager with an emo haircut and a leather jacket pulled over a grey hoodie stands in a doorway, his pockets stuffed with small plastic bags of crystal meth. Peyvand sells a gram for the equivalent of about $5. He has been caught countless times by the police but has always paid his way out of prison.
“Everyone buys it. Most of my customers are regular kids like me, students, or they’ve got office jobs. But rich kids use it too – I either deliver it to their houses, or they turn up in their flashcards,” he says.
A few miles north of where Peyvand deals, a queue of women sit on white plastic chairs in a beauty salon set up in a marble-clad apartment block. Drawn by the salon’s reputation as a purveyor of the finest Hollywood bikini waxes, they flick through hairstyle magazines and a few outdated copies of Hello! There are housewives, students, women with her black chador hanging open around her shoulders, and a group in their mid-20s with Botox-smooth foreheads clutching Louis Vuitton handbags. The place fizzes with gossip. A fortune-teller works her way up the line, dispensing advice with the flick of a card and extracting generous tips. Also, a hit with some of these women is the under-the-counter methamphetamine pills. A couple of years ago, meth was widely available at beauty salons, until a member of parliament called for a clampdown.