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
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
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

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower