Islamic Republic of Iran

UNODC global vision on prevention, treatment and care of drug abuse and HIV/AIDS

Mashad, 13-15 September 2011- The Representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mr. Antonino De Leo, presented UNODC global vision on drug and HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care at the 11th Congress of Iranian Society of Toxicology (IRANTOX).

The Congress was organized by the Medical Toxicology Centre of Mashad University of Medical Sciences and held in Imam Reza Hospital in Mashad. Its main focus was to facilitate a scientific discussion on the medical and psychological aspects of drug addiction.

In his opening speech at the IRANTOX congress, Mr. De Leo focused on Science-based prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of addiction.

The scientific community, the World Health Organization and the UNODC consider substance dependence as a multi-factorial health disorder affecting the brain, often following the course of a chronic disease characterized by addictive behavior. Mr. De Leo stressed the fact that for vulnerable groups such as adolescents and young adults drug use cannot be considered in most cases a conscious free choice, but is related to a combination of genetic and environmental factors contributing to a condition of psychobiological vulnerability. Therefore, these individuals should not be considered as criminals but should instead receive help and social protection, adequate information as well as evidence-based treatment and should be given the opportunities for rehabilitation and reintegration into the community.

Although addiction is a chronic disease with a long-life persistent risk of relapse in a large rate of the patients affected, this health disorder is preventable and treatable. A wide range of ethical and science-based treatment methods and rehabilitation programs such as methadone maintenance (for opiate dependence treatment) have proven effective in stopping or reducing the behavioural consequences of addiction.

Globally, UNODC estimates that in 2009, between 149 and 272 million people aged 15-64, used illicit substances at least once in the previous year. Cannabis is by far the most widely used illicit drug type, consumed by between 125 and 203 million people worldwide in 2009. This corresponds to an annual prevalence rate of 2.8%-4.5%. In terms of annual prevalence, cannabis is followed by ATS, opiates and cocaine. In terms of the health consequences of drug use, the global average prevalence of HIV among injecting drug users is estimated at 2.8 million people. This means that nearly one in five injecting drug users is living with HIV in the world. The prevalence of Hepatitis C among injecting drug users at the global level is estimated at 50%. Deaths related to or associated with the use of illicit drugs are estimated to range between 104,000 and 263,000 each year.

UNODC's work in the field of prevention and treatment of drug dependence, as well as HIV prevention, treatment and care is based on the core principles of the international conventions on narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and transnational organized crime. It assists national efforts to protect the health of individuals and societies from the dangerous effects of drugs, to address the health and social problems of drug users and people living in prison settings, and provide people at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS with information, education and the means of reducing their risk.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the pioneering countries in the prevention and treatment of drug addiction and HIV/AIDS. The national authorities with the help of NGOs have developed HIV/AIDS prevention outreach programmes and established a large number of drop-in centers. Prisons Organization has launched initiatives to reduce high-risk behaviour among prisoners.

Mr. De Leo highlighted UNODC's role in supporting the Islamic Republic of Iran's national efforts to promote evidence-based approaches on drug use prevention and to enhance the country's drug dependence treatment and care capacities. Under the new country program for 2011-2014, UNODC promotes a public health prevention approach protecting individuals families and communities from drug addiction and HIV/AIDS. In all these areas, actions target mainly vulnerable groups through work in partnership with a number of national and international partners.

Mr. Antonino De Leo concluded by saying that "Science has demonstrated that drug addiction is a preventable and treatable disease. Evidence-based drug prevention and treatment programmes are key components of medium/long-term successful national health strategies."