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Heroin and the Swiss

Sue Rusche
Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
December 5, 1998

Letter writer Alan Bryan ( "It's not working," Nov. 9 ) claimed,
"The Swiss have been prescribing heroin to addicts for years, and there have been no overdose deaths."

Not exactly. Switzerland has some 30,000 heroin addicts. About
1,100 enrolled in a three-year experiment in which the
government gave addicts free heroin to inject three times a day.

Some 350 dropped out of the program; 36 died. Whether they
died of an overdose or some other problem related to their
addiction matters little to these addicts. Dead is dead.

Most of the other claims made for the "success" of the Swiss
heroin project are not supported by the only site, in Geneva, that conducted a scientific, randomized study. The Geneva
researchers actually compared heroin maintenance with
conventional treatment and found that addicts did just as well in
the latter as the former.

What's more, when the Geneva addicts in traditional treatment,
who were serving as controls, could switch to the heroin program six months later, few did. Why? The addicts said they wanted to stop, not continue, injecting drugs. (The Geneva study appeared in the July 4 British Medical Journal.)

For the past decade, the Swiss have tolerated drug use,
particularly heroin use. As a result, Switzerland now has one of
the highest rates of heroin addiction in Europe.



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