Rotterdam plan to hand out drugs

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The Independent Online
ROTTERDAM - Police here are proposing to distribute hard drugs to addicts in an effort to cut drug-related crime and cool public anger at addicts' behaviour. 'We want it considered as an experiment,' said Hans Stoop, a police spokesman. 'Distributing hard drugs under strict supervision could help make the problem more manageable.'

Drug abuse is not illegal in the Netherlands, but official policy restricts heroin addicts to small city center areas, often near stations. Addicts are often blamed for high petty crime rates in those areas. Mr Stoop said police had reached 'the limit of our capacity' to counter the public nuisance caused by addicts. 'If we raise the police presence in affected areas and get tougher on the junkies, the problems are just shifted on to someone else's doorstep,' he said.

The Rotterdam situation illustrates the Dutch dilemma caused by the view that drug abuse and prostitution are social phenomena rather than criminal offences. Police do not spend their time arresting drug addicts for possession or prostitutes for soliciting, but more and more resources are devoted to halting the crime that surrounds the growing drugs and sex industries.

The proposal is being played down by the Dutch Justice Ministry, which maintains that any official drug distribution programme would act as a magnet to addicts and violate international drugs treaties aimed at preventing so- called 'drug tourism'.

The Rotterdam proposal goes one step further than in Amsterdam, where methadone, a heroin substitute, is available to registered addicts at city clinics. Amsterdam, one of Europe's most notorious drug markets, has a free needle exchange programme to curb the spread of Aids. But the city has turned down proposals to distribute free heroin to addicts.