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
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living