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Dreifuss puts emphasis on drug prevention

Switzerland has traditionally made a name for itself for taking a rather more liberal line on drugs than its neighbours

(Keystone)

Switzerland's interior minister, Ruth Dreifuss, has been presenting her proposals on dealing with the adverse effects of narcotics abuse to the Council of Europe.

Dreifuss addressed delegates on Thursday at a ministerial conference on drug abuse, being held in the Portuguese town of Sintra.

"Ruth Dreifuss emphasised the continued and extreme use of force by the authorities when dealing with trade in illicit substances," the director of the Swiss Federal Health Office, Thomas Zeltner, told swissinfo from Sintra.

He added: "She also highlighted the importance of having an adequate prevention and treatment programme."

Switzerland provides free drugs and needles to addicts who have not responded to conventional treatment. This has won applause from other countries wishing to follow its lead.

The "Groupe Pompidou", as the Council of Europe drugs organisation is called, was founded in 1978 and has since provided a forum in which to exchange ideas.

Switzerland has traditionally made a name for itself for taking a rather more liberal line on drugs than its neighbours.

There has in the past been heated debate, and therefore open criticism directed against the Swiss within the "Groupe Pompidou" was inevitable.

But, Zeltner says he has noticed a change in attitude towards Switzerland, and the Federal Health authority wants to convince other countries of the benefits of its heroin prescription programme.

Health experts will, however, be keen to point out to their foreign colleagues that the programme is really a last resort for the worst cases of addiction and not a free-for-all self-service shop.

Patients have to fulfil a series of strict criteria after which they will be medically supervised.

The Swiss delegation has also travelled to the conference to win support for its way of tackling harm reduction. By that the Swiss mean not treating drug users as outcasts, but rather using a realistic approach and limiting further potential damage to society.

Another controversial issue is the Swiss government's recent move to urge parliamentarians to legalise the use of cannabis.

Although it does not feature on the official agenda at the conference, correspondents say Switzerland's neighbours will want to know more about these plans·

swissinfo with agencies


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