Pubdate: Fri, 23 May 2003
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2003 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: Nick Davies, The Guardian
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Switzerland is now leading the way out of prohibition. In 1994, it
started prescribing free heroin to long-term addicts who had failed to
respond to law enforcement or any other treatment. In 1998, a Lausanne
criminologist, Martin Kilias, found that the users' involvement in
burglary, mugging and robbery had fallen by 98%; in shoplifting, theft
and handling by 88%; in selling soft drugs by 70%; in selling hard
drugs by 91%. As a group, their contacts with police had plunged to
less than a quarter of the previous level. The Dutch and the Germans
have had similar results with the same strategy. All of them report
that, apart from these striking benefits in crime prevention, the
users are also demonstrably healthier (because clean heroin properly
used is a benign drug) and that they are more stable with clear
improvements in housing, employment and relationships.

The Dutch report that only 7.7% of their soft drug users are also
using hard drugs. In Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK for
which comparable figures are available, 46.7% of soft drug users are
also hard users. For those trying to tackle crack, the Swiss heroin
programme shows dramatic falls in the use of all illicit drugs. The
Swiss are now even reporting that, having stabilised their lives, 22%
of one group of users have opted to abstain from all illicit drugs.

By contrast, the US, which has led the prohibition strategy, is
stumbling deeper into failure. President Bush, in his report on drug
strategy last year, was forced to acknowledge that "in recent years we
have lost ground" in reducing illegal use.

In February, the US office of management and budget reported that the
drug enforcement administration "is unable to demonstrate progress in
reducing the availability of illegal drugs in the United States".
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