Swiss voters give boost to heroin on the NHS

Switzerland set to back radical plan to help addicts

A pioneering British programme to provide injectable heroin to drug addicts received a boost yesterday when voters in Switzerland backed a similar scheme in a referendum.

Early returns indicated overwhelming support for the Swiss scheme which has been credited with reducing crime, improving the health of addicts and clearing them from the streets.

Drug experts in Britain hailed the result as an indication that long-term prescription of heroin to hardened addicts could be politically acceptable. The practice of giving addicts drugs on a maintenance basis, rather than weaning them off them, is one of the most controversial in medicine.

Harry Shapiro, from the charity Drugscope, said: "The Swiss are not known for their radical views. But they have approved this scheme for users, relatives and the public. I hope this will encourage a speeding-up of the process here. The Government is going to need UK evidence before it acts but it is taking a long time to get it."

A pilot scheme established "shooting galleries" in London, Brighton and Darlington, where addicts could get drugs and inject under supervision. The scheme cut crime and stopped street sales. Crimes committed by the addicts dropped from about 40 to six a month after six months of treatment, said Professor John Strang, the head of the National Addiction Centre at the Maudsley hospital. A third of addicts stopped using street heroin and the number of occasions when the rest "scored" dropped from every day to four to five times a month, on average.

Long-term heroin users are among the hardest addicts to treat. They often steal to fund their habit, which accounts for a large proportion of crime in Britain; one in 10 drug addicts commit three-quarters of all acquisitive crime, according to official figures.

The British scheme is modelled on the Swiss scheme, where injecting clinics are deemed to have "medicalised" heroin use, removing its glamour and transforming it from an act of rebellion to an illness requiring treatment. Similar clinics have been established in France, Germany and Canada.

The Swiss programme was launched in 1994. The parliament had already approved a proposal to make it permanent but the conservatives challenged the decision and forced a national referendum under Switzerland's cherished direct democracy.

In Britain, there are about 280,000 drug users, most taking heroin and crack cocaine, and about 2,500 drug-related deaths each year. The pilot scheme, targeted at the 3,000 to 6,000 long-term addicts, operates 365 days a year and costs £15,000 annually per addict, three times the normal cost of providing oral methadone treatment.

Professor Strang said it was "intensive care for drug addicts" and was "more expensive than standard treatment but a third of the cost of sending them to prison at £44,000 a year. And when they go to prison they become re-addicted on release."

"We have constructed a sterile clinical environment so as to increase the separation from street drug use. We are dealing with a profound drug hunger and trying to medicalise it in order to break the link with street heroin use and crime."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms