The Iranian National Center for Addiction Studies (INCAS) was initiated in 2004 by licensing agreement-in-principle from the Ministry of Health & Medical Education (MoHME) as a research institute within the Tehran University of Medical Sciences. It was at this centre that Iran’s first clinical studies on opioid agonist maintenance treatment for opioid dependence were conducted. The medication initially studied was methadone; this was subsequently followed by studies on buprenorphine and opium tincture. INCAS has so far approved 105 research projects which have led to the publication of about 200 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals.

A significant feature of INCAS is that its operations are not limited merely to research. It designs and implements evidence-based training courses to complement its applied research projects. Iran’s first-ever training course for methadone maintenance treatment was held at INCAS in 2005. Since then, some 77 training courses with over 2500 participating physicians have been held at INCAS. Graduating physicians receive diplomas that allow them to launch MMT clinics. In this manner, INCAS has played an essential role in the development of the national network of addiction treatment and harm reduction clinics whose numbers now exceed 3370.

Other important functions of INCAS include designing and conducting Matrix Psychotherapy courses for treatment of stimulant dependence as well as various other educational courses in treatment of substance abuse/dependence and their effects and co-morbidities. Such courses are attended by physicians, psychologists, and other treatment professionals in the public and private sectors including those employed at various medical science universities and the Prisons Organisation.

With the support of the World Health Organisation’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (WHO-EMRO), the Drug Control Headquarters (DCHQ), and the Ministry of Health and Medical Education (MoHME), INCAS has now extended its mission beyond Iranian territory; since 2007, it became active in neighbouring countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, making it a regional knowledge hub for Middle East and North Africa Association (MENAHRA).

Since 2007, the centre has promoted the development of harm reduction programmes (particularly opioid agonist maintenance treatment) at the regional level through holding seven international workshops for participants from neighbouring countries, organising study visits of Iranian harm reduction programmes for authorities and officials of these countries, and dispatching teams of Iranian specialists to conduct training and advocacy missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The success of such efforts led to the continuation of the KH-INCAS activities as part of Middle East and North Africa Association (MENAHRA)’s multi-country five-year (2012-2016) project with Global Fund. Further development of evidence-based interventions to reduce drug-related harms such as opioid maintenance treatments in regional countries is faced with certain obstacles, a situation which should hopefully improve soon as a result of the continuation of these efforts. INCAS’s initiatives to foster a conducive environment for harm reduction policies and programmes were acknowledged as a “Best Practice” in Iran in the  Global AIDS Response Progress Report 2012.

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