Drug Policy Forum of Texas
   Search WWW          Search www.dpft.org

Figures for

Texas News



The Swiss once had drug policies that were as harsh as those in the US. Under those policies, the heroin problem became the worst in Europe and almost as bad as in the US. This failure led health officials to urge experimentation with alternatives. 

The Swiss began with a failed experiment in Zurich called "Needle Park," which simply designated an area where addicts would be free from arrest. Addicts flocked in from all over and it was chaos. It was closed in 1995. 

American officials constantly point to this brief piece of history as an example of the failure of Swiss policy, a gross misrepresentation.

The new system of giving selected hard core addicts all the heroin they wanted began in 1994 and was given a 3 year trial. After seeing the results, 71% of voters rejected an attempt to stop the program in 1997, allowing expansion. Swiss police, who bitterly opposed the move at first, now praise it. 

The system has gained support in many other countries although US pressure has been strong enough to stop trials in Australia. 

A similar system was used in the US over 80 years ago and was squashed by federal interference over local objections as were several later attempts to start it up again in other states. 

If the federal government would encourage state and local initiatives, there is little doubt that it would begin somewhere again. 

One of the key lessons of the Swiss model is to confirm other evidence that the behavior of a heroin addict, and the costs to the addict and to society are dramatically altered for the worse by forcing them to use the illegal market to get their drug. 

 " ... the addict whose drugs came from a stable source was no great problem to the community ... He became a serious problem only if he engaged in illegal activities to obtain narcotics.  The alcoholic was more visible and his arrests more frequent."  

-­ Dr. John O'Donnell, chief of research for the National Institute of Mental Health, 1969 


The number of heroin addicts in the US is small, probably less than 1 million, but unreliable government estimates seem to show it has almost doubled in the past 25 years.  By comparison, there are about 14 million estimated alcoholics. 

Foreign countries recognize that the addicts have demonstrated that they will get their drug no matter what and are testing if it is better for society if they get their drugs from government clinics rather than from illegal dealers. 

The Swiss began with about 1% of their most hard core addicts and have expanded to about 5% after a referendum on continued expansion showed 70% approval.  An excellent 12 minute video from "60 Minutes" portrays the system.  Swiss researchers report no significant negative consequences and claim the following major benefits in some 17 clinics: 

* Sharply reduced criminal behavior by participants. 

* The ability to stabilize many addicts at a low enough level so they can  return to  normal work.  Legal employment rose sharply.  

* No overdose deaths among participants in five years. 

* Major financial savings in reduced costs for health care and policing. 

* Marked decrease in drug use and a small but significant number who progressed to abstinence. 

* Homelessness among participants was virtually eradicated. 

* The illegal markets were deprived of a portion of their normal customers and profits. But only wide scale expansion could make this a major blow to the cartels. 

* Concerns about doses escalating out of control proved to be unfounded, and most participants achieved stable doses in 2 to 4 months. 

Such clinics were once common in the United States.  They were of uneven quality.  Perhaps the best was in Shreveport from 1919 to 1923.  The illegal dealers, then called "peddlers," did disappear.  While people died from illegal alcohol, Shreveport had no overdose deaths from heroin and morphine.  Regular contact with doctors rather than dealers apparently led to lower addiction rates than we have today. 

Shreveport's clinic was closed through federal pressure despite the protests of local authorities.  A partial account is below: 

"Various officials were also interviewed.  Federal District Judge Jack again affirmed his high opinion of the clinic.  He warned that he would vigorously oppose any steps taken toward a discontinuance of the clinic, because from his own knowledge it had lessened crime in the city.  The city judge was even more outspoken than the federal judge in his praise of Dr. Butler.*  He particularly favored care of the incurable addict which enabled him to work and not be a charge on the city.  Both the chief of police and sheriff said that crimes which might be resorted to to pay for illicit drugs had lessened since the inauguration of the clinic.  The U.S. marshal was of the same opinion."  

[* Dr. Willis Butler, Shreveport's chief health official, devised and operated the clinic.]  

-­ from THE AMERICAN DISEASE by David Musto 


Additional notes:

See: An Addict's Story 

A British study

Prescribing injectable heroin does not eliminate illicit drug use and crime, say the authors of the British study, [of 58 long-term users who had failed with other treatments] although the incidence of both "declined significantly". Their health and social behavior also improved, say the study's authors, from the Centre for Research on Drugs and Health Behavior at the Imperial College School of Medicine in London. 

-- Sydney Morning Herald, 6-15-98 

Spain starts program 

Controlled distribution of heroin has begun. 

120 addicts among 850 have been selected: one half will receive heroin, the other half methadone. All will learn a skill or trade to become employable. 

-- EL PAIS (Madrid) 2-1-03

Germany starts program 

In March, seven cities in Germany began "heroin-supported therapy" in which addicts get heroin under medical supervision. 

-- New York Times, 5-7-02 

Canada starts program  

The North American Opiate Medication Initiative, known as NAOMI, will experiment by giving free prescription heroin to about 400 long term addicts in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal in 2005 and 2006.

Link your Randall's/Tom Thumb Reward Card to our account.  The store will pay us a percentage of your purchases.  Our number is 9656.

Kroger will donate an amount equal to 1% of your purchases to DPFT.   You must have your DPFT Share Card scanned at the time of purchase.  The cards are the size of a business card.  They should be kept with or attached to your Kroger Plus card.  Contact suzy@dpft.org to get a card.

Copyright © 2004 Drug Policy of Texas dpft.org. All Rights Reserved.

   Search WWW          Search www.dpft.org