In an effort to battle heroin addiction, Switzerland recently voted to make a program, in which the government supplies addicts with heroin, permanent. Through the program, nearly 1,300 people receive heroin injections at 23 centers across the country in amounts just enough to numb the craving. The editorial board of The Miami Student believes that the program is an unwise investment based on its performance thus far.
The program first began 14 years ago and has not proven any more effective in breaking users’ addictions than other methods of rehabilitation. Although the rate of new addicts has been decreasing, that has not been shown to be a direct result of the program.
The falling rate may be more related to an altered image of heroin addicts than to the program. Some doctors have observed that while at one time it was a popular drug, heroin is now associated with an older generation. While historically heroin has been seen as a rock-and-roll drug, contemporary Swiss associations have transformed it into a drug for burned out, old-age addicts. As a BBC article pointed out, the approach of the government program is to wait out the lives of those currently addicted.
The program is not worth the $22 million a year that it costs the public. Because it doesn’t represent any improvement over alternative programs, the program is consuming resources that could be better applied elsewhere. Once established, a heroin addiction is nearly impossible to break, so the money should be channeled into preventative measures such as education. The money could also be used to fund research into new ways to treat this addiction, since existing options are largely unsuccessful.
We recognize that as a last resort the program provides some benefits. By weaning those who are dependent on heroin down to a smaller dosage, the program enables them to function at some level in society. By creating a clean, supervised environment for addicts, it also helps clean up the streets and reduce the spread of disease as a result of sharing needles. Still, given the limitedness of its benefits and its lack of success in actually breaking addictions, the program serves only to divert resources that might be invested in more effective solutions to the same problem.