Press release on Swiss drug policy

Lausanne, June 12, 2006. The French-Swiss Anti-drug Association (Association romande contre Ia drogue, ARCD) vigorously protests at the scandalous interpretation of a study conducted by two Zurich researchers in connection with the evolution of heroin consumption. Contrary to what is misleadingly stated, the reduction in the number of heroin addicts is not due to the “liberal drug policy” applied in Switzerland; actually, the situation has not improved, but it is the narcotic products used that have changed. Less heroin but much more cocaine, such is the disturbing reality of the evolution of drug consumption, not forgetting the ravages of strongly dosed cannabis.

In 1991, the Platzspitz. the first large ‘open drug scene” in Zurich was about to be closed. Although the number of heroin addicts has actually dropped since then, as pointed out by Carlos Nordt and Rudolf Stohler in a study concerning the methadone and heroin substitution treatments administered in Zurich (The Lance, 2 June 2006), it has certainly not been thanks to a “liberal drug policy”. It is simply that the drug consumers switched their preference to cocaine and highly-dosed cannabis rather than heroin, considered a “looser” drug, with the damning results that we see today:

  • no other country in Europe has recorded so high a rate of cannabis consumption among the young (and the very young) as has Switzerland: and what makes things even worse is that the rate of psychoactive substance in this cannabis is 7 to 18 times higher than in the nineties;
  • the cocaine epidemic. which appeared shortly after the closing of the “open drug scenes”, now concerns over 100.000 consumers: no prevention programme was set up:
  • the consumption of synthetic drugs. ecstasy and GHB leading the way, continues to develop:
  • the results of this rise in the consumption of drugs are increased violence, depression, psychoses and a fast-rising suicide rate among the young;
  • from 1999 to 2005, the number of fatal ODs increased from 181 to 212 throughout Switzerland and from 45 to 63 in the canton of Zurich alone:
  • the introduction of a so-called “harm-reduction” policy in the nineties was undertaken to the detriment of prevention. therapy and repression. Over the past six years. 44 detox and rehabilitation centres (25% of the total number) have disappeared. The demand for residential therapies is in free fall.

The ARCD would like to point out some facts concerning the prescription of heroin, which went from the testing stage (1994-1996) to that of a treatment claiming to be therapeutic (1999) and refunded by the health insurance companies (2002). To date. 2,903 drug addicts have gone through the heroin prescription programmes. Some of them (over 200?) have died. The sticking rate of participants in the programmes is barely 50 to 70% according to the duration of the treatment. It is the most marginalized. and hence those who constitute the prime target audience, who drop out of the programmes for lack of support. Of those who remain, rare are those who go for a therapy aimed at abstinence. The 2005 annual report of the Koda heroin prescription centre, in Bern. indicates that 3 drug addicts out of 195, last year. managed to detox. That means that 98% of the participants continue to consume opiates, often in combination with other illegal products. So this approach has contributed to maintaining their dependence.

The social costs related to the consumption oldrugs in Switzerland are evaluated at more than 4 billion francs a year. Over time, the costs of an abstinence-centred treatment appear much less than those of the substitution programmes. With heroin prescription, the taxpayers and persons insured with health insurance companies arc made to assume expenditure which could be avoided.

The ARCD is calling forthe introduction of a new policy to combat illicit drugs based on prevention worthy of the name, a reinforcement of the medical care services, with abstinence as the therapeutic goal. and an appropriate legal response to all infringements, with a firm and systematic repression of narcotic trafficking.

Contact: Claude Ruey, member of the Swiss Federal Parliament, phone 0041 31 311 64 16, e-mail: ciaudertmeva) Jean-Philippe Chenaux, phone 0041 21 796 33 00, e-mail: jpç

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