Swiss Voters Say Yes to Prescription Heroin Program

December 01, 2008 04:12 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
An overwhelmingly approved ballot initiative makes Switzerland the first with a legalized plan that allows addicts to inject the drug under medical supervision.

Swiss to Continue Treating Heroin Addiction With Heroin

Swiss voters passed the plan with support from 68 percent of voters, as part of a series of national referendums on illegal drug policy. Swiss voters recently rejected another referendum to decriminalize cannabis, despite widespread police tolerance for moderate use of the drug.

The program, which began in Zurich more than a decade ago, is described by The New York Times as “the world’s most comprehensive legalized heroin program.” It allows about 1,300 addicts to visit specialized clinics at 23 government-approved centers across the country to inject legally the drug up to twice a day, as a last resort. The clinics also provide treatment for other medical or mental health issues.

Supporters say that the program, which began in Zurich more than a decade ago, has been effective in booting addicts out of the country’s infamous “needle parks” and lowering drug-related crime. But opponents, such as the United States and the UN narcotics board, say that it aids drug abusers, and sends the wrong message to youth.

Related Topics: Global drug laws

Switzerland’s heroin program is now being emulated by governments around the world, while some have already been involved in similar efforts, but on a smaller scale. Australia and Canada have started their own programs, and the Netherlands in 2006 began a small program with 15 treatment centers that serve about 600 patients.

Some countries are giving Swiss-style heroin injection programs a trial run, such as Belgium, Germany, Spain and Canada, which embarked on a three-year pilot project endorsed by the Canadian Institutes of Health. Britain has allowed licensed doctors to prescribe heroin since the 1920s, and Denmark approved a two-year trial of prescription heroin last February.

Although more countries seem to be giving legalized heroin treatment the green light, global drug laws are not necessarily becoming more relaxed.

The 63-percent bloc of Swiss citizens who voted against decriminalizing marijuana and growing the plant for personal use may have learned a lesson from Britain’s attempt at loosening legal punishment for using cannabis last year, which largely backfired as marijuana use increased, drug-related crime rose despite a drop in marijuana arrests, and research suggested serious psychological effects. Recent research suggests that long-term marijuana use may be more harmful than previously thought, according to the BBC.

Additionally, more countries have been moving toward limiting what is now a widely legal drug: tobacco. Earlier this year, India became the latest country, joining Turkey, the Netherlands, France and the UK in passing laws to limit smoking in public places.

In an unexpected turn of events, the Netherlands’ decision to ban smoking tobacco at its iconic cafes over the summer may have had the surprising effect of forcing customers to resort to smoking pure cannabis, which is not regulated by the new law.

Reference: Heroin; drug abuse


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