Officials of the Iranian government announced last week that they are embarking on a pilot program to provide syringes and condoms to drug users in an effort to prevent the spread of AIDS and hepatitis. The items will cost the equivalent of a nickel.
Situated next door to Afghanistan, home of 90% of the world's opium and heroin production, Iran now suffers one of the world's highest opiate addiction rates. Iranian officials generally estimate that 2 million of the country's 71 million people are addicted to opiates, now mainly heroin.
"Five of these machines which have been made will be installed in five of Tehran city's welfare shelters for addicts," the deputy head of Iran's anti-narcotics organization, Mohammad Reza Jahani, said in remarks reported by Agence France-Presse. "Condoms, syringes, bandages and plasters will be easily accessible just by inserting a coin. This protects addicts from acquiring AIDS and hepatitis."
Look for more syringe and condom vending machines, said Jahani. "The machines will be used for a three month trial period and if the scheme is successful then we will upgrade them and increase their distribution to other shelters," he said.
The harm reduction measure is the latest in a series of moves in the Islamic Republic's approach to drug use and addiction. While it still hangs traffickers and guns down smugglers, it now tries to treat users as "people who need help," or at least is starting to, rather than throwing them into already overcrowded jails.