Beginning sometime next month, hard core heroin users in Denmark will be able to receive two doses of heroin a day, courtesy of the Danish health system. They will have to go to one of five drug clinics established around the country, where they will be able to inject pharmaceutical grade heroin under a doctor's supervision.
Denmark thus joins a small but growing number of European countries, including Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Great Britain that have heroin maintenance programs. The goal is harm reduction.
"The aim is to improve their state of health, help them avoid committing crimes and stabilize their lives," Dr. Anne Mette Doms of the Danish Board of Health told the British newspaperThe Guardian. "Quitting altogether is not a realistic option for most of these patients. For them, this will be a chronic treatment, as if you were treating a chronic disease."
Support for such programs is a welcome change, said Preben Brandt, chairman of the Council for Socially Marginalized People. "Five years ago I decided I would not participate in yet another debate on drugs," he told the Guardian. "It was too emotional, with different groups being very aggressive. The counter-argument was always 'you kill people by giving heroin' or 'with this initiative, you are telling people that taking heroin is OK'," he said. "It is very difficult to have a rational debate when you are arguing against beliefs."
But successes in other European countries experimenting with heroin maintenance helped change the atmosphere, said Mads Uffe Pedersen, head of the Center for Alcohol and Drug Research at the University of Aarhus. "The politicians became convinced that it could help those with the most severe drug problems," he said. "You could not argue against the (positive) findings."
"The debate became more practical," agreed Brandt. "It was about what policies worked and which ones did not. It was no longer about morality."
And changing attitudes toward drug users also helped, Brandt said. "Drug addicts in Denmark are less stigmatized. They are no longer perceived as criminals who are a danger to society. They're seen as patients who have a disease they need help with. The new scapegoats in Denmark are the foreigners."