Swiss drug policy

Drug Policy Question of the Week – 7-11-11

As answered by Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts for the Drug Truth Network on 7-11-11.

Question of the Week: Has Swiss drug policy been effective?

In a recent Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, Joseph Califano and former drug czar William Bennett decried Swiss drug policy, saying,

“In the 1990s, Switzerland experimented with what became known as Needle Park, a section of Zurich where addicts could buy and inject heroin without police interference.  Policy makers saw it as a way to restrict a few hundred legal heroin users to a small area.  It soon morphed into a grotesque tourist attraction of 20,000 addicts that had to be closed before it infected the entire city.”

However, according to the Open Society Institute, in the 1970s

“The response of the Swiss authorities to more widespread use of narcotics was to revise the federal law on illicit drugs to define rigorous criminal sanctions…”

Then, “Increasingly desperate to find a way to control crime and social and health harms associated with injection drug use, in 1987 the Zürich authorities allowed people who used illicit drugs to gather in a defined space [that] came to be known as the “needle park.”

According the Beckley Foundation, in

“an official document dated September 7, 1994, the Swiss government defined the Four Pillars as constituting the foundation of its national drug strategy. [Pillars include] prevention, therapy, risk reduction and enforcement—to which innovative measures, such as drug treatments using prescription heroin, were added.”

The Open Society Institute concluded,

“The introduction of the Four Pillars strategy …. brought about a significant reduction of deaths directly attributable to drug use, such as overdose, and of deaths indirectly related, such as HIV and Hepatitis. Between 1991 and 2004, the drug related death toll fell by more than 50%”

These facts and others like them can be found on the Switzerland Chapter of Drug War Facts at