Source: Reuters
Pubdate: Wed, 15 Jul 1998
Author: Greg Calhoun


ZURICH (Reuters) - The top U.S. drug policy adviser on Wednesday criticized
Switzerland's heroin distribution program for severe addicts and said he
was anxious to see the results of the experiment several years from now.

"I'm very skeptical about the evidence of heroin maintenance. I think that
our own thinking is to strongly oppose this. We have historical experience
in the 1920s that it did not work," General Barry McCaffrey, the White
House drugs chief, told a news briefing in Zurich.

McCaffrey, who made headlines earlier in his five-country European tour by
slamming lenient Dutch drug policy, brushed aside a question from a Dutch
journalist on his critical comments.

"It's probably less helpful to continue a debate through the press over the
nature of Dutch drug policy than to have a face to face, open evaluation of
it," he said.

In Stockholm earlier this week, he blamed tolerant Dutch drug laws for much
higher rates of murder and other crimes than those in the United States.
The Netherlands on Tuesday rebuked McCaffrey for his statements, but said
he was welcome to learn from the Dutch experience.

McCaffrey had said there were 17.58 murders for every 100,000 inhabitants
in the Netherlands in 1995 compared with 8.22 in United States.

But the Dutch government's Central Planning Bureau put the rate at 1.8 per
100,000 in 1996 and said the U.S. adviser had apparently added in attempted
murders to his figures.

The Netherlands tolerates the small-scale production and sale of so-called
soft drugs but actively discourages the abuse of hard drugs.

After meetings with health and law enforcement officials in Zurich on
Wednesday, McCaffrey praised the overall approach to drug policy in
Switzerland and the cooperation between law enforcement and social

But he said the practice of giving drugs to severe addicts was "like giving
alcohol to the alcoholic."

After a three-year study, the Swiss government decided earlier this year
that drug addicts who do not respond to other kinds of therapy should be
given state-provided heroin under medical supervision.

McCaffrey said that in his view such schemes provided the short-term
benefit of reducing crime, but ultimately led to an increase of drug use.

"Our own worry would be that in the longer term it will contribute to an
inexorable growth in the rate of heroin use and become a disfunctional
aspect of drug prevention in society at large," he said.

But a Swiss health official said after the news briefing that McCaffrey had
backed down from some of his comments about addiction in Switzerland after
his meetings.

Thomas Zeltner, head of the Swiss federal health bureau, said he told
McCaffrey that the maintenance program was limited to below 10 percent of
all chronic heroin users and that Swiss officials had produced data to show
that the U.S. adviser's conclusions about Swiss addiction rates were wrong.

- ---
Checked-by: (Joel W. Johnson)