Pubdate: Sat, 11 Jun 2011
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2011 PG Publishing Co., Inc.
Author: John G. Chase


While reading Tony Norman's June 3 column about the Global Commission
on Drug Policy ( "Ease Up in Drug War? Smart But Unlikely" ), I came
across the May 15 report by Michael A. Fuoco, "Heroin Use in Region at
Highest Level Ever."

This is EXACTLY the problem Ruth Dreifuss faced in the early 1990s.
She is a member of the commission and also Switzerland's former
president and minister of home affairs. Bern and Zurich were trying to
cope with an epidemic of opiate addiction and AIDS caused by IV drug
use. (We Americans read about Zurich's notorious Platzspitz, aka
"needle park".) She got the police and the medical community to agree
on an experiment. They started in 1992 by closing Zurich's "needle
park" to drug users and letting hard-core addicts register with the
state to obtain clean heroin. They also offered methadone maintenance,
counseling and, if requested, treatment to abstinence.

In the years since, it has gotten majority support of the Swiss people
and spread throughout Switzerland. In a 2008 referendum the Swiss
people voted over 2-to-1 to make it a permanent part of their national
health system. While methadone is used for 95 percent of the addicts,
heroin is available to the 5 percent for whom methadone is
ineffective. The program pays for itself in improved public health and
safety and enables addicts to hold jobs and pay taxes. The average age
at registration is slowly rising, an indication that kids are not
becoming addicted, and the number of patients needing heroin has
stabilized at about 1,300. Use of drugs other than opiates has either
declined or stayed the same.

The key to success was to de-politicize the issue and involve both law
enforcement and the medical community. Even the U.N. Office of Drug
Control has backed off its criticism of the program. The Swiss are
onto something. It is a story that needs telling.


Palm Harbor, Fla
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.