The upper house of the Swiss Parliament this week (10/9) approved a plan which will allow doctors to prescribe heroin to long-term addicts. The plan, which passed by a vote of 30-4, comes on the heels of a successful three-year trial in which 1,100 Swiss heroin addicts were offered regular access to the opiate in a clinical setting.

The results of the Swiss trial showed that among enrollees, homelessness and crime fell significantly, employment rose, drug use stabilized or declined, and many participants voluntarily entered treatment. (You can find the Swiss Report online at http://www.lindesmith.org/presumm.html.)

Opiate maintenance is a promising addition to currently accepted modalities for dealing with addiction, but it is also politically controversial. Soon after the results of the Swiss trial were released, the Australian government indicated that it was interested in launching a similar experiment. Just days before approving that protocol, however, Australian Prime Minister Howard nixed the plan. It was later revealed in the Australian press that the U.S. State Department had threatened to have the United Nations Office of Drug Control Policy shut down Tasmania's legal opiate industry if the plan went ahead. (See http://www.drcnet.org/wol/004.html#blackmail for further background.)

But despite the pressure being applied by the U.S., at least three nations (Germany, The Netherlands and Great Britain) are currently in various stages of discussion or action with regard to heroin maintenance. Proposals have also been presented in Canada. In September, a conference on opiate maintenance was held at the New York Academy of Medicine that was attended by over 125 people from more than a dozen countries.

Ty Trippet, spokesman for The Lindesmith Center, a drug policy think tank in New York, told The Week Online, "This action by the Swiss reaffirms that governments can, in fact, deal rationally with issues such as opiate maintenance. The evidence is clear that stripped of political and moralist rhetoric, there is a case to be made for a whole range of modalities in dealing with addiction. The Swiss Parliament acted out of concern for their citizens, and after three years of clinical experience during their trials, there is every reason to believe that they have voted responsibly."

Switzerland itself faced an internal challenge to its burgeoning harm reductionist drug policy in September of 1997 when a group calling itself "Youth Against Drugs" placed a referendum on the ballot which would have sent the country back to a punitive, rather than a public health approach to substance use. That referendum was defeated at the polls, however, by a margin of 71% to 29%, giving Swiss officials the political leeway they needed to move forward.

The current plan is expected to take effect this Saturday and estimates are that at least 2,000 Swiss citizens will soon be receiving heroin legally.

-- END --
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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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