Switzerland and Heroin Addicts

Swiss voters’ recent decision to give permanent approval to a legalized heroin program for addicts has stirred interest in other countries, like Australia and Canada, that are struggling with how to deal with hard-core addicts. The Swiss program began in 1994 and now operates in almost two dozen centers, serving 1300 addicts who have not responded to traditional therapies. Supporters claim it has helped to eliminate the open use of injected drugs in parks that was common in the 1980s and 90s. The Netherlands began a similar program a few years ago for 600 addicts. Addicts in the Swiss program visit a center twice a day to receive carefully measured doses under a nurse’s supervision. Psychiatrists and social workers are available for consultation. Health insurance, mandatory for all Swiss citizens, covers the cost. The Swiss parliament had already approved the program last March, but a challenge by conservatives led to the national referendum in early December in which 68 percent of voters approved the program and thereby made it permanent.

The United States has criticized the Swiss program, contending that it could increase levels of drug abuse. But our own approach to addiction issues has been sadly shortsighted. The “war on drugs” has meant a huge growth in prisoners convicted of drug offenses. Over half the prisoners in federal prisoners are behind bars for drug offenses, many of then non-violent. But for addicts not yet caught up in the justice system, there are few opportunities for free residential treatment program. Substance treatment should be made available without an addict’s having to enter the prison system. Now, even in-prison programs have been scaled back by budget cuts. The United States should set a good example by investing  more in treatment, before criticizing another country’s good-faith efforts to address its citizens’ addiction problems.    

George Anderson

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

The appointments are part of an ongoing effort to give a greater role to women in the work of the Roman Curia offices, the central administration of the Catholic church.
Gerard O’ConnellApril 21, 2018
Ivette Escobar, a student at Central American University in San Salvador, helps finish a rug in honor of the victims in the 1989 murder of six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter on the UCA campus, part of the 25th anniversary commemoration of the Jesuit martyrs in 2014. (CNS photo/Edgardo Ayala) 
A human rights attorney in the United States believes that the upcoming canonization of Blessed Oscar Romero in October has been a factor in a decision to revisit the 1989 Jesuit massacre at the University of Central America.
Kevin ClarkeApril 20, 2018
Journalists photograph the lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison in California in 2010. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
In California, Catholic opponents of the death penalty are trying to protect the largest population of inmates awaiting execution in the Western Hemisphere.
Jim McDermottApril 20, 2018
Photo: the Hank Center at Loyola University Chicago
Bishop McElroy said that Catholics must embrace “the virtues of solidarity, compassion, integrity, hope and peace-building.”