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Europe: German States Want Heroin Maintenance for Addicts

German state governments are pressing the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel to open the way to providing free heroin for hard-core addicts throughout the country. A bill adopted in the Bundesrat and supported by 13 of the 16 state governments would transform what is now officially a heroin maintenance pilot program where hundreds of addicts in seven cities are provided free heroin into a national program paid for by health insurers.

Established in 2001 in an effort to help hard-core addicts get off the drug, reduce their levels of criminality, and reduce overdose deaths and disease, the the pilot program was deemed a success by the German government in May 2006. Plans were announced to expand it from 750 to as many as 1,500 people, but those apparently never materialized.

A federal drug official who supports broadening the program, Sabine Bätzing, told Deutsche Presse Agentur, said some 3,500 addicts would benefit from the program if it were available across the country. As with the pilot program, only those addicts who had failed on substitutes such as methadone would be eligible for the expanded program.

Birgit Schnieber-Jastram, social-welfare minister in Hamburg, told the news agency that pilot programs in her state had reduced drug consumption and helped break the link between addicts and illicit drug markets.

But the bill to expand the heroin maintenance program faces the opposition of Merkel's dominant Christian Democratic Union, which objects to the burden it says it would impose on insurers and is instead suggesting more pilot projects on an as needed basis. The CDU also argues that the aim of German heroin policy should be to wean addicts from heroin, not maintain them.

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