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Iran turns to American technique to fight drug addiction

TEHRAN - Every city in Iran has back alleys full of desperate addicts and their dealers who sell the cheap drugs that flood across the border from Afghanistan. But for those who decide to kick the habit, there is help imported from an unlikely place: America.

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Starving addicts huddle together in the streets as volunteers hand out food
CBS News

Deep in an old bomb shelter left over from the Iran-Iraq war a Narcotics Anonymous meeting is about to start. Our camera was invited in on condition we didn't show anyone's face.

"I am Mohammed," said one attendee. "And I am a drug addict."

The same tried and true 12-step program used in the U.S. is now working for 400,000 Iranian addicts. One in ten of them are women. NA conventions in Iran fill entire sports stadiums. And in a country where the Islamic government controls so much - NA is uniquely independent.

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Addicts fill a sport stadium in Iran as they seek counseling for their addiction
CBS News

Koorosh, an ex-addict, tells us that's key - as it lets NA be completely non-judgmental. At the time of our interview, Koorosh said he'd been clean for nine years, seven months and five days.

"I still take it one day at a time," he told me.

But as many as 3 million Iranians haven't kicked the habit and end up homeless, jobless and abandoned by their families. On one evening our cameras captured a few former addicts, eager to help, distributing food to people so far gone they're starving.

To show it's winning the war on drugs the police publicly destroy shipments they've seized. Dealers are executed by hanging, but not addicts. For them, the government supports an extensive network of detox centers.

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The destruction of Narcotics by Iranian police
CBS News

Masoud Tondroo, a social worker, showed us around the one he runs in a Tehran suburb. Locked in, the men will go cold turkey and receive medical checks for HIV and hepatitis. The center becomes a home, a place where cheerful company and stability make for a community, at least temporarily.

But detox last only a few weeks. When it's over, these men will be sent back out onto the street, where Narcotics Anonymous is the best alternative to the seduction of an easy high.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."