Needle Park, Switzerland

Often when talking about drug legalization I hear about how the Swiss tried it and in what was nicknamed “needle park” and what a mess it was. Junkies shooting up in public… fighting, throwing up… even dying in the park.  They cite it as evidence that we need to continue our policy of prohibition.

 What the pragmatic Swiss did was this: They realized that heroin addicts were a problem in Zurich and other Swiss cities. The Swiss like order and cleanliness and junkies nodding off in shop doorways and urinating on the steps of Swiss banks was a problem. They designated a park near the railroad station as a place where these IV drug users could go and do what they did unmolested by police.

Well it got them away from the downtown shops and banks but every IV drug user in Switzerland went there to score their drugs. Then it attracted junkies from other European countries as well. It became an uncontrollable mess in short order. Imagine if we had alcohol prohibition again and there was one park in your city designated as the only place where you could legally drink alcohol. How long would it take for every alcoholic in town to go there? Can you imagine what that park would be like in a month?

 So realizing that the needle park idea was a dumb one but still understanding that arresting drug users hasn’t worked elsewhere in the world the Swiss tried another plan…heroin maintenance. They took the most addicted drug users they could find, people that had repeatedly failed treatment programs, and brought them to a clinic where they met with a doctor who examined them and gave them their dose of heroin. Soon a dose was found that satisfied their cravings but allowed them to function. They came to the clinic once or twice a day and shot up. After a year they evaluated the program. The results, according to World Health Organization* concluded:

 (a) The health of participants improved.

(b) Illicit cocaine and heroin use declined greatly.

(c) Housing situation improved and stabilized- most importantly there were no longer any more homeless participants.

(d) Fitness for work improved considerably, those with permanent employment more than doubled from 14% to 32%.

(e) The number of unemployed fell by half (from 44% to 20%)

(f) A third of the patients that were on welfare, left the welfare rolls. But, others went on to welfare to compensate for their lost income from sales of drugs.

(g) Income from illegal and semi-legal activities decreased significantly, from 69% of participants to 10%.

(h) The number of offenders and offenses decreased by about 60% during the first 6 months of treatment.

(i) The retention rate was average for treatment programs. 89% over 6 months, and 69% over 18 months.

(j) More than half of the dropouts did so to switch to another form of treatment. 83 of the participants did so to switch to an abstinence-based treatment, and it is expected that this number will grow as the duration of individual treatment increases.

(k) There were no overdoses from drugs prescribed by the program.

 There are currently some 1300 addicts in these programs around the country and, in addition to pharmaceutical heroin or cocaine they get therapy with a psychiatrist and counseling by social workers.

The aim is that the patients learn how to function in society. After two to three years in the program, one-third of the patients start abstinence-programs and one-third change to methadone treatment.

 I remember talking to the chief of police for Zurich at that time and he told me that he spoke around the country against this program until he saw it in action. Now he speaks in favor of it and why not? Crimes committed by heroin addicts have dropped 60 percent since the program began in 1994.

 Next Sunday the Swiss will have a referendum on whether or not to make the program permanent. Polling shows a 3 to 1 majority in favor.

 Also on the ballot will be a law to make it legal to own and cultivate cannabis.  According to official surveys, 28% of the Swiss aged between 15 and 39 have smoked cannabis.

“Out of a population of 7 million we have 600,000 users. The level of social acceptance is very high” said Sergio Savoia, president of the ‘Verdi Ticinesi’ and one of the political parties in favor of the new law.

The big Swiss cities and the German part of Switzerland are in favor while more rural and traditional areas are less enthusiastic. The majority of political parties are in favor of this law and it too is expected to pass.

 Check back here after the voting and I’ll tell you the results.


* Source: Robert Ali, et al, (April 1999), Report of the External Panel on the Evaluation of the Swiss Scientific Studies of Medically Prescribed Narcotics to Drug Addicts, The World Health Organization.


3 Responses to “Needle Park, Switzerland”

  1. brian farrell on July 19th, 2009 6:41 pm

    i think this is great im on a methadone programme for heroin abuse. i wish i was on a heroin maintenace programme as the methadone is a bitch to kick.all the best u guys .brian from n.ireland

  2. Danny s.ireland on April 13th, 2010 8:43 pm

    Brian I agree methadone is a nasty drug far more addictive than herion methadone scripts especially maintainance scripts do not work it becomes a backup between using and often leaves addicts in the unenvyable predicament of two addictions instead of one Methadone gets into your bones rots teeth and when methadone is in the system users need more herion than usual Methadone in tablet form is better but many agencies won’t prescribe them for fear of people injecting them I.V meth known as amps are the best and i feel it often helps the user more because of it’s effect but no agencies prescribe this unless private maybe.I have been on methadone for approx 15years and am sorry i ever started when using herion i always felt i would one day stop as i have everyother drug i used to take except cannabis yet i feel the methadone will always be there thus allowing myself to use occasionaly and occasionaly too often.I would love to be prescribed herion as treatment as that would cut out everything about being an addict that takes up all your time {getting money waiting scoring using and feeling sick inbetween }freeing up my time to start living and working normally.I found when i had a constant supply never running out within 3years the best and easiest time of my life Heroin led to me kicking my alcohol addiction which was my most destructive addiction.Legal drugs,benzo’s and sleepers proved to be the hardest comedown and withdrawl of all.Many addicts would be very capable of living a productive and meaningful life with a herion prescription taken in a safe controlled enviroment,also health would be better as street herion is often cut with dangerous additives and people who commit crime to fund thier habit would no longer have to break the law as they do daily sometimes multiple times daily.I wish drug workers campaigners and politicans alike would open their minds to this see things as they really are.The positives of herion prescriptions far outway the positives of other treatments the benefits are not only there for the user but are there for the wider community and country ,reducing if not eliminating the dealers and freeing the user.The war on drugs can never be won since nixon started the war on drugs in 1971 drugs has gone from a problem to an epidemic touching every corner and neighbourhood of our society.Drug laws are pushing evermore dangeroug and unknown so called legal drugs onto the market now the variety of legal chemical drugs on the market is now immense and cheap the law will never be able to stay ahead of these as soon as one gets banned another is ready to take it’s place.What trend of legal drug taking are we pushing are young towards remember legal drugs kill more people than the illegal ones so what message is that giving out.We are all adults and should have the freedom to take what we please most people do anyway so it’s time to be sensible and help the vast majojity of adults by legalising and setting up strict quality control on all drugs and giving people the true facts about drugs good traits and bad alike maybe then we would create a better enviroment for the young our future adults in many ways.prohibition don’t work justs feuls the fire creating violence and fear by those wanting to control supply to become super wealthy Certain drugs i believe are kept illegal by tobacco alcohol suppliers and pharmicutical companies ploughing vast ammounts of cash into the just say no and keep drugs illegal {except thiers} coffers not to help us stay healthy or drug free not for our childrens future but to protect thier vast profits and to protect the place in the market for thier own poisons.The illegality of cannabis with all it’s positives for many illnesses and diseases and the legality of tobacco with all it’s negatives and no positives just highlights the need for laws to change.Drugs will always be here good or bad and were here before mans laws picked which to ban which to sell time to accept it and legalise it and to stop treating addictions with a more addictive legal substance.Free non violent drug prisoners do not prosceute save multi millions in legal aid and free up much needed time for the police to concentrate on real criminals Let all canabis smokers grow plants thus helping repair the ozone produce cleaner air and give us a choice other than alcohol to relax or to change our preceptions of reality and life.Get political press those standing for elections to bring the failure of drug laws and the unfairness projected by them to the forefront .Make them firmly state where they stand on reviewing and changing these laws which are now outdated in relation to what we now know about drugs and push for debate and study on what has been learnt from other alternatives to illegality. Danny Republic of Ireland

  3. Ky Rinn on November 28th, 2010 6:16 pm

    Danny, good jesus, you are well informed. I actually sat here reading your comment and was blown away by what you said. That sounds bad, I mean it in a good way :) Atleast some people have the right head on their shoulders.

    My best wishes to both you and Brian.

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