Toads the latest enemy in Iran's war on drugs.
Addicts rolling and smoking skins, says doctor
guardian.co.uk, Monday 16 February 2009 17.27 GMT
Opium, heroin and hashish have long been the targets of Iran's war on drugs. Now officials have turned their attention to a dangerous new source of substance abuse: toads.
Experts say addicts have begun breeding toads for the purpose of rolling their dried skins inside cigarettes. Smoking them releases potentially addictive hallucinations, which are produced by a poisonous chemical normally used by the amphibians as a weapon against prey and predators.
Dr Azarakhsh Mokri, of Iran's national centre of addiction studies, said action was needed to combat "toad abuse" in a country identified by the UN as having the highest rate of opiate abuse in the world. He did not specify the species involved.
"Any substance which has abusive potential should be subject to treatment and preventive measures," he told Iranian news agency ISNA. "The existence of toad abuse does not mean that the toad has overwhelmed the country but it does mean we should be prepared for prevention against abuse of such kind and recognise it in order to practice treatment for addiction to it.
"There should be a special treatment protocol and experienced experts for any kind of drug abuse."
Toad skin is the latest trend in a changing pattern of addiction in Iran. In recent years traditional substances have been supplemented by industrially produced chemicals such as ecstasy and concentrated heroin.
The two most common new drugs are heroin variants known as crystal and crack, which can be processed to 95% purity and have caused a spate of fatal overdoses.
Iran's chief police officer, General Esmail Ahmadi-Moqaddam, has said officers are ill-equipped to combat industrially produced chemical drugs, even though the country spends an estimated £7.7bn a year fighting traffickers and treating addicts.
Instead, police have intensified their efforts against heroin and opium, which is smuggled in from Afghanistan. This week, officers in the central province of Qom discovered 282.5kg of opium hidden in the stomachs of 17 camels that had been transported in vans from near the Afghan border. Agents had been alerted by the sudden sale of cheap camel meat, which is rare in Iran.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has estimated that more than 4 million of Iran's 70 million people are addicted to drugs. The government puts the figure at 1.2 million addicts and 700,000 recreational users. Some 3,500 Iranian police and military personnel have been killed in armed clashes with drug traffickers since 1979.