Iran suppresses opium production


According to the information available, opium smoking was introduced into Iran in the second half of the nineteenth century from the east; since then, addiction to this drug has constituted a major problem in the economic and social, as well as the public health fields.


Author: Jehan S. Saleh
Pages: 1 to 2
Creation Date: 1956/01/01


Iran suppresses opium production

M.D. Jehan S. Saleh Minister of Health of Iran

According to the information available, opium smoking was introduced into Iran in the second half of the nineteenth century from the east; since then, addiction to this drug has constituted a major problem in the economic and social, as well as the public health fields.

Prior to this date, the use of opium for medical purposes had been noted in Iran as early as the days of Avicenna in the tenth and early eleventh centuries. Opium smoking has always been looked upon as a shameful habit in Iran, and in 1910 legal steps were taken to prohibit completely the non-medical use of opium. In 1928, a bill giving the monopoly of opium to the Government was ratified by parliament, and it was arranged to diminish gradually the cultivation of the opium poppy in such a way that a complete ban could be imposed after a period of ten years. Heavy penalties were provided in this law for illegal use and illicit traffic in opium. The Government of Iran, in the year 1932, acceded to the International Convention for Limiting the Manufacture and Regulating the Distribution of Narcotic Drugs, signed at Geneva on 13 July 1931. Later, in 1938, opium poppy cultivation was banned in twenty-five districts of the country. The Council of Ministers in 1946 issued a decree calling for the complete banning of the cultivation of the opium poppy. However, this decree was not ratified by parliament; and at the fourth session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Iran was recognized as an opium producer, so that the ban was amended to limitation of cultivation. The Iranian Government has, however, always clearly indicated its intention to authorize opium poppy cultivation only in proportion to world medical and scientific needs.

Being aware of the seriousness of the problem of opium addiction in the country, and conscious of the significance of the problem from the international point of view, the writer, when he became Minister of Health, decided to direct all possible efforts toward the total banning of the cultivation of opium poppy in the country. I pleaded the case with the Senate and Majless for the urgent ratification of the entire opium bill and, after many stormy discussions in both houses of parliament, the bill was finally passed on 7 October 1955. Its text is as follows:


ARTICLE ONE - From the date of the approval of this law, the cultivation of opium poppy, preparation and importation of narcotic drugs (opium, juice of opium and other components) and use of public dens for use of the said drugs, manufacturing and importation of relative equipment is prohibited throughout Iran.

ART. 2 - From the date of the approval of this law six months' grace is given to addicts to report to the centresdesignated by the Ministry of Health, so that means of cure can be put at their disposal.

Note: The Government is bound, through the Agricultural Bank and other Governmental Institutions, to give long-term credits, also technical help to farmers who have no financial resources, within the limit of possibility, so that necessary facilities for change from opium poppy plantations to other cultivations may take place, and further the Government is bound to put sufficient credit at the disposal of the Ministry of Health for the execution of Article 2.

ART. 3 - After expiration of the six months mentioned in the above Article, the use, holding, purchase and sale of narcotic drugs is prohibited.

ART. 4 - The Government is obliged, one month from the date of the approval of this law, to prepare the executive regulations, the necessary punishments and fines for violations, and after approval by the competent Committees of both houses, put them into execution.

ART. 5 - The Ministries of Health, Interior, Finance, Agriculture and Justice are responsible for the execution of this law.

This law, which has five articles and one note, was approved on Tuesday 11 Mehr 1334 (4 October 1955) by the Majless and after it was returned by the Senate, was confirmed and communicated to the Government on 7 Aban 1334 (30 October 1955) by the Majless.

At the time of the consideration of the bill, I made a statement to the following effect, which shows clearly the great importance of the question for my country:

"(i) the area under opium-poppy cultivation was 1/350th of the arable land of the country;

"(ii) the total opium harvest varied between 700 and 1,200 tons annually, and exports during the last ten years had averaged 90 tons annually;

"(iii) There were 1,500,000 opium addicts in Iran; about 2,000 kg of opium was smoked daily; and every year addiction to this drug caused 5,000 suicides, the premature death of about 100,000 people, and the abandonment to destitution of something like 50,000 children."

The subject of this bill has always been a controversial matter in Iran, because it involves a very acute economic problem for the farmer. The argument put forward in favour of the bill was that no economic advantage or reasoning can justify any issue where the health of the people, which is the basic asset of any country, is at stake. We have learned by experience that efforts directed only to limiting the production of opium and abolishing opium addiction are likely to meet with failure; that as long as the opium is accessible to the public, any anti-opium addiction campaign is useless. The passage of this law involving tremendous economic sacrifice is convincing evidence of Iran's interest and co-operation in international health affairs.

The bill includes three phases of activity:

  1. the banning and total abolition of opium poppy cultivation;

  2. the treatment of addicts;

  3. the control of illicit opium traffic.

As I mentioned in my remarks in the Ninth World Health Assembly on this subject, strict control has been exercised over opium poppy cultivation and, since the enactment of the law, over 12,000 hectares of opium poppy have been ploughed under, and hundreds of dens have been closed throughout the country. Many custodial institutions for the treatment of addicts have been established, and millions of anti-opium pills have been distributed to the provinces where opium addiction is a problem.

The third aspect of the problem, however, remains to be solved, that is, the control of illicit opium traffic. Needless to say, unless the illicit traffic in opium is controlled, any efforts for the banning of cultivation, and any campaign against the use of it, will undoubtedly meet with failure. The Permanent Central Opium Board in its recent report[1] states: "It is a matter for satisfaction that the Government of Iran has now recognized the gravity of the problem and has decided to grapple with it, but it is evident that a number of difficulties will have to be overcome before their intentions can be fully and successfully carried into effect. The Board welcomes any positive step which may be taken to cope with so dangerous a situation and will watch with the greatest interest the result of the measures which are taken by the Government to implement its decision."


It is in the spirit of such a statement that I voice the plea of Iran to all countries and international organizations to give us a helping hand in the implementation of this most vital and universally significant law; to encourage and stimulate the enactment of similar laws in countries where poppy cultivation still remains as a source of income. The producing farmer in Iran has lost an excellent cash crop which is very difficult to replace by anything else giving the same return. The Government as well has lost a portion of its foreign exchange earnings so badly needed for social improvement schemes already planned. It is for these reasons, and in the light of the attitude shown by Economic and Social Council resolution 548 E (XVIII) recommending that the technical assistance services of the United Nations and the specialized agencies give due consideration to any request which the countries concerned may make .for assistance in developing appropriate administrative or social measures, that Iran is requesting the technical assistance authorities and the United Nations to give her the particular consideration she deserves in her fight against this lucrative but evil drug.[2]





At its twenty-second session, on 2 August 1956, the Economic and Social Council adopted a resolution recognizing that the success of Iran in implementing the law suppressing opium production could not be accomplished without international co-operation, drew the attention of the technical assistance authorities of the United Nations and the specialized agencies to the importance of the speedy achievement of these aims, and invited these authorities to give due consideration to any requests, in addition to requests for technical assistance for other purposes, which the Government of Iran may make for technical assistance in that field. [Editor's note.]