Swiss Vote to Keep Program Giving Addicts Heroin
GENEVA (AP) — The world’s most comprehensive legalized heroin program became permanent on Sunday with overwhelming approval from Swiss voters, who separately rejected the legalization of marijuana.
The heroin program, started in 1994, is offered in 23 centers across Switzerland. It has helped eliminate scenes of large groups of drug users shooting up openly in parks and is credited with reducing crime and improving the health and daily lives of addicts.
The nearly 1,300 addicts selected for the program visit one of the centers twice a day to receive a carefully measured dose of heroin produced by a government-approved laboratory.
They keep their paraphernalia in cups labeled with their names, and use the equipment and clean needles to inject themselves under the supervision of nurses. They also get counseling from psychiatrists and social workers.
The United States and the United Nations narcotics board have criticized the program as potentially fueling drug abuse. But it has attracted attention from governments as far away as Australia and Canada, which have started or are considering their own programs modeled on the system.
The Netherlands began a smaller program in 2006, and it serves nearly 600 patients. Britain has allowed individual doctors to prescribe heroin since the 1920s, but it has been running trials similar to the Swiss approach in recent years. Belgium, Germany, Spain and Canada have also been running trial programs.
Of the 2.26 million Swiss who voted in the national referendum, 68 percent approved making the heroin program permanent. But 63 percent voted against the marijuana proposal, which was based on a separate citizens’ initiative to decriminalize consuming marijuana and growing the plant for personal use.