Published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

How can we conceive alternative policy models that embrace the empirical potentialities emerging from the lifeworld of drugs? The article reflects on this question, concluding that to reassess and to reinvent current policies on drugs, we need to think with a political ontology. Incidentally, the article also responds to the critique dismissing ontological inquiries as obstructing – or, at best, not informing – alternative drug policies.

In an archaeological approach inspired by the work of Giorgio Agamben, the article unearths the case study of opium maintenance programme in Iran (1969–79), a forgotten policy experiment in an understudied and yet crucial geo-cultural environment for the global study of drugs.

Mobilising the conceptual framework of ontological journeys, the article recomposes the lifeworld of opium within the horizons of transformative cultural practices, international borders, policy regimes and public ethics. Here, the materiality of drug consumption under the maintenance policy links with the changes in opium’s transnational political economy and with shifting regimes of health and bioethical orthodoxy. Ontological journeys, hence, develop in a fluid space and time, making it possible to illuminate the lifeworld of drugs in places and times hitherto deserted by global policy studies.

In building theoretical reflections upon a non-Western case, the article also incites the possibility of theory beyond Eurocentric knowledge and Euromerican cases. In this way, the article’s purpose is to analyse the be-coming of opium beyond ‘good’ or ‘evil’, as a ‘medicine’ or a ‘drug’ and its real or perceived classification as ‘licit’ or ‘illicit’ across the Afghan-Iranian border. In conclusion, the article reflects upon the significance of this forgotten policy experiment, understood as an ontological journey, for contemporary drug policy and drug studies, but also for reinventing notions of care, welfare and health.