The German parliament has voted to allow the prescription of heroin to addicts who have not responded to other treatments. The lower house of parliament approved the measure May 28.
Under the new law, heroin users who have been using for at least five years, are at least 23 years old, and who have failed to stop in other treatment programs will be able to receive pharmaceutical heroin in designated treatment centers. The law follows a German pilot program conducted in seven cities between 2002 and 2006 that showed impressive results in reducing crime, overdose fatalities, and HIV among hard-core users.
Similar results have been reported in Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland. Last year, Swiss voters legalized prescription heroin in a public referendum.
The news was welcomed by drug reformers around the planet. "The success of the German heroin prescription projects, combined with similar results in other countries, leaves little question that heroin prescription could reduce crime, HIV and overdose fatalities in the United States as well," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "And [the May 28] vote in Germany, combined with similar evidence of public support in other countries shows that the public will support even controversial drug policies when they are given a chance to prove themselves. There is no question that heroin prescription programs are needed and long overdue in this country. All that stands in the way is politics and the backward assumption that it can never happen in the United States."
The Australian group Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform likewise used the German vote to agitate for similar policies Down Under. "The German decision challenges Australia to remove John Howard's veto of this medical treatment and put humanity and social well-being first," said Brian McConnell, President of Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform. "The veto of the decision of the Australian Health Ministers in 1997 for a heroin trial must be reviewed in the light of the rising number of overdose deaths and the threat of a renewed flood of Afghan heroin," he said
"Excuses for not introducing it have become baseless given the overwhelming evidence that now exists in support of the measures," McConnell added. "Attracting the severely addicted into treatment, away from recruiting and selling to new users to support their habit, will surely allay parents' and governments' concerns about the provision of this treatment. It can undermine organized crime's profit from heroin, which is critical at a time when world production of heroin is increasing. Much is to be gained with this common sense measure: there are lives to be saved, individuals' health to improve and a huge potential for reduced crime and trafficking in illegal heroin."