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 Switzerland Expands Heroin Maintenance Program


September-October 1998

In October, the Swiss parliament voted to expand its experimental prescription heroin maintenance program. The lower chamber voted 106-25 and the upper chamber voted 30-4 in favor of expanding the program to allow doctors to prescribe heroin to more patients on a permanent basis. Up to 10% of Switzerland's heroin addicts, about 2,000 to 3,000 persons, are expected to participate in the expanded program, which costs about $30 a day per person (Associated Press, "Controlled Heroin Distribution Given the Nod," The Australian, October 10, 1998; "Heroin on prescription for Swiss addicts," BBC News Online Network, October 1, 1998).

The experimental program was set up four years ago and allowed about 1,000 selected addicts to obtain prescription heroin at special clinics. A three year study of the program found that it reduced crime and disease transmission ("Swiss Heroin Maintenance Program Declared a Success," NewsBriefs, August 1997, p. 17). A referendum on the program showed 71% of the public supported it ("Swiss Voters Overwhelmingly Support Heroin Maintenance Program," NewsBriefs, November-December 1997, p. 5).

Supporters of the program say prescription heroin allows addicts to maintain their health and lead productive lives and to reintegrate into society. After normalizing their lives, many addicts in the program wean themselves from the drug.

Switzerland's Federal Department of Internal Affairs - Federal Office of Public Health, Unit of Drug Interventions, 3003 Berne, SWITZERLAND, Tel: (011) (41) (31) 323-8713.

Embassy of Switerland, Roberto Balzaretti - 2900 Cathedral Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008, Tel: (202) 745-7900.