Iran is breaking bad. Officials say methamphetamine production and abuse of hard drugs are skyrocketing in the country despite potentially lethal criminal penalties for users if they're caught. The increase is partly because Iran is the main gateway for the region's top drug exporter, Afghanistan—and partly because Iranian dealers are profiting so handsomely. A psychologist who treats dozens of meth addicts at a therapy camp in a mountain village northwest of Tehran says most of her clients fall into two categories: students "who want to pass university entrance exams successfully," and "people who have to work a second and third shift to make ends meet and earn more money."
Anti-narcotics and medical officials say more than 2.2 million of Iran's 80 million citizens are addicted to illegal drugs, including 1.3 million in registered treatment programs. They say the numbers keep rising annually, even though use of the death penalty against convicted smugglers has increased, too, and now accounts for more than nine of every 10 executions. An anti-narcotics official says for every meth lab they detect, two more might spring up, often involving small-scale "cooks" operating in residences where production is particularly hard to detect. Iran's Health Ministry was slow to finance rehabilitation clinics nationwide, but a growing network of private camps has sprung up that partly receives state financing, and authorities have stepped up a public awareness campaign. (Read more Iran stories.)