"Switzerland's innovative policy of providing drug addicts with free methadone and clean needles has greatly reduced deaths while cutting crime rates and should serve as a global model, health experts said on Monday," Reuters reports in an article that examines the outcomes of drug policy reform in the country (Nebehay, 10/25).
"Switzerland, a country known for its solid conservatism, was shaken by seeing its cities become the point of convergence of thousands of drug users and counterculture activists, culminating in large open drug scenes in the late 1980s," according to the Open Society Foundation, who published a report (.pdf) on Switzerland that examines" how evidence-based services such as heroin treatment, injection rooms, and needle exchange can lower HIV infection rates, improve health outcomes, and lower crime rates" (October 2010).
According to Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, an estimated 10 percent of new HIV infections worldwide are the result of injecting drug use, Reuters writes.
"We had to change perspective and introduce the notion of public health. We extended a friendly hand to drug addicts and brought them out of the shadows," Ruth Dreifuss, a former Swiss president and interior minister, said during a briefing, according to Reuters. "Swiss authorities authorized experiments such as syringe exchange programs and safe injection rooms offering a shower, bed and hygienic conditions under medical supervision, said Dreifuss, who led the campaign to reform narcotic drug policy."
As a result of such efforts, "[s]ome 70 percent of the 20,000-30,000 opiate or cocaine users in Switzerland now receive treatment, one of the highest rates globally, said Dr. Ambros Uchtenhagen, who helped pioneer heroin substitution and chairs the Research Institute for Public Health and Addiction at Zurich University," the news service writes. "The number of drug injectors with HIV has been reduced by over 50 percent in 10 years. Overdose mortality among injectors has been reduced by over 50 percent in the decade," Uchtenhagen added.
Kazatchkine lauded Switzerland's approach: "The AIDS epidemic is spreading faster in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region than anywhere else, led by drug users, according to Kazatchkine. 'We are still facing huge societal, political and cultural resistance to implementing evidence-based policies for intravenous drug use[r]s,' he said" (10/25).
This article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.