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Private company to supply prescription heroin

For the first time a private firm will be able to hand out prescriptions for heroin Keystone Archive

The Swiss authorities have licensed a private company to produce and deliver prescription heroin for the very first time.

The small pharmaceutical firm, which was not named for security reasons, was chosen after the government called for tenders early last year. None of the major drug companies showed any interest in the project, according to Swissmedic, Switzerland’s pharmaceutical regulatory authority.

Heroin has been medically prescribed to drug addicts since 1993 under a controversial programme. The government decided to put distribution and delivery in private hands after the end of the clinical trial phase of the project.

Not profit-making

The chosen company will pay a license fee to the government. “The authorities won’t be making any money from this exercise though,” said Paul Dietschy, head of Swissmedic.

The heroin produced by the firm, called Diaphin, was recently added to the pharmaceutical register according to the Federal Health Office. The registration will become permanent once the company makes an official request.

The home affairs ministry will now attempt to push through its project to get prescription heroin reimbursed by insurers.

Insurance coverage

“The federal pharmaceuticals’ commission will recommend sometime this spring that Diaphin be added to the list of drugs covered by basic health insurance,” said Tanja Lustenberger, a spokeswoman for the Federal Health Office.

Prescription heroin could be reimbursed as early as next July. Insurers are expected to appeal against this decision though.

Swiss voters accepted the legal basis for medical prescription of heroin in June 1999. Until now, the authorities have imported between 150 and 200 kilogrammes per year of pure heroin, also known as diacetylmorphine.

In 2000, 15,600 doses of heroin were produced. Over 1,000 patients – 74 per cent of them men – were treated that year in one of 20 specialised centres in Switzerland.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR