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Four-pronged approach

Switzerland: A pioneer for a humane drugs policy

Swiss police deal with the social effects of drug addiction in the Letten area of Zurich in the 1990s (Keystone)

Swiss police deal with the social effects of drug addiction in the Letten area of Zurich in the 1990s


Human beings and not drugs, need to be at the centre of drugs policy – so said the Swiss health minister, Alain Berset at the UN special session on the world drugs policy in New York.

Berset outlined Switzerland’s four-pronged drugs strategy, which was met with controversy when it was introduced in 1991. However, since then it has been partly reproduced in many other countries.

For the last 25 years Switzerland has applied a four-pronged approach: prevention, therapy, damage limitation and repression. This pragmatic policy was born out of the Zurich drug problems of the 1980s and 1990s. In 1994 the Swiss first introduced the controlled prescription of heroin by doctors for the chronically addicted.

Prevention: The public is educated with information, advice and national drug prevention programmes. In this way the consumption of drugs can be reduced.

Therapy: People with addiction disorders receive medical and psychological care. This can include the prescription of heroin. This enables former addicts to reintegrate in society and the workplace.

Damage control: To minimise the negative health and social consequences of drug consumption, cantons provide emergency centres or support private institutions. The distribution of clean needles is included in this service.

Control and repression: Enforcing measures that outlaw the use of illegal drugs reduces the negative consequences of drug consumption in society.

Berset complained that the final document to emerge from the summit did not condemn the use of death penalties for drugs offences in some countries. Addiction should be treated as a disease, not a crime, he said.

In an interview with the German television station Deutsche Welle, Ruth Dreifuss, the-then health minister and current member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, criticised the UN’s tactics of using repression and bans to combat drug abuse. Instead, the focus should be on health, human rights policy and integration, she said. “We should also talk about the failure of drugs policy and be ready to tread new paths.”



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