Editorial: Putting People Before Ideology 10/16/98

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This week in Switzerland, the upper house of Parliament voted 30-4 to allow doctors to prescribe heroin to their addicted patients. The measure comes on the heels of a successful three-year experiment in which 1,100 Swiss addicts were given access to the drug under clinical supervision. The experiment was, by all accounts, a success.

A success, that is, if you define that term by measures such as a decrease in crime, an increase in employment, stable lives, greater numbers of people voluntarily entering treatment, reduced rates of disease, increased overall health, a near-total elimination of homelessness and lower overall economic costs to the state. And oh, not a single overdose fatality.

In the eyes of American drug warriors, however, the experiment was a harrowing failure. Driven by both an ideological fanaticism that demands abstinence from every individual at any cost, and by the dollars which flow from their increasingly punitive and expansive war effort, they see no virtue in any process that undermines either. In fact, within weeks of the end of the three-year trial, the U.S. Senate held hearings with the title, "Legalization and the Failure of the Swiss Heroin Experiment."

Fortunately, the good citizens of that country were listening to the facts, and had little interest in political bluster from across the pond. Within weeks of the release of the heroin maintenance report, Swiss voters, by a 71-29% margin, told their government to move forward with just this type of drug policy, one that puts people over ideology. And in the aftermath, governments across the world have begun debating, in some cases even undertaking, their own trials. And now, in Switzerland, the only nation in the world with scientifically-controlled data on the impact of allowing addicts access to heroin, the upper house of Parliament has given doctors a green light to make this an option for their patients.

The U.S. State Department, which has gone so far in the recent past as to blackmail Australia out of starting its own maintenance experiment, has yet to comment on the new Swiss law. But it doesn't really matter anymore, does it? Because despite the best efforts of American "diplomacy," the rest of the world is finding its own definitions of success. And with greater frequency, they are definitions borne of humanity and pragmatism. These definitions of success do not require the state to drive people underground and to treat a whole segment of its society like animals, putting them in cages, for their failure to live up to the State's dictates on the composition of their bodily chemistry.

It's over, of course. The drug war is crumbling around the U.S., which try as it might will not long be able to ignore the results attained in other trials and by other reforms in civilized nations around the globe. And if it seems that drug policy reform is the farthest thing from anyone's mind in Washington, D.C., where oral sex is far more interesting, and easy to pontificate about, than the complexities of the global economy or the failure of our drug policy, don't worry. It will happen. Because very soon the American public will have plenty to compare it with. And when that happens, American politicians will find that their definition of success doesn't ring true with their constituents either.

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Issue #63, 10/16/98 Why DRCNet? | Federal Judge Orders Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Club Shut Down -- City to Consider Providing Marijuana to Patients | Oregon Poll: Reform Positions Hold Lead | Pain Went Up Sharply Among Oregon's Dying in Late 1997 | Swiss Okay Controlled Heroin Distribution | Oklahoma Police Chief Threatens Harassment of Man Who Opposes the Drug War | Marijuana Ranks Fourth Largest Cash Crop in America Despite Prohibition | Social Concern a Sign of Teen Drug Use? Ask Orrin Hatch | Car Seizure Law Upheld in Oakland | "Driving While Black" Lawsuit Grows | Web News | Editorial: Putting People Before Ideology
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