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Swiss back new European drug agenda

Sniffing out the problem: a dog searches for drugs in canton Graubünden

(Keystone)

A European conference including Swiss participation has backed a six-point action plan to tackle drug abuse and trafficking over the next three years.

Switzerland welcomed the outcome of ministerial talks in the French city of Strasbourg. The so-called Pompidou Group is the only European forum on drugs that Bern as a non-EU member can attend.

"A special interest in that new programme is that there will be a debate looking at not only illegal substances but also how legal substances, for example alcohol and tobacco, are consumed in combination with them," Diane Steber, in charge of international drug policy at the Federal Health Office, told swissinfo.

"This is a debate that's slowly started in Switzerland...What we know is that young people don't only consume illegal drugs without also consuming legal substances in most cases."

The six-point agenda for the period 2007-2010 includes using the internet, SMS and other new technologies to improve current drug abuse prevention messages.

The feeling is that current messages tend to be designed by adults and do not always reach the target audience.

Focus on young

There will also be a focus on specific treatment services not just on heavily addicted drug users but also on more casual drug users aged 18-25.

"It's a big issue seeing how consumption is still increasing with the young, also in Switzerland. There is an ongoing revision of the Federal Law on Narcotics and youth protection is one of its points," Steber said.

Other measures aim to examine the ethics of drugs testing at schools and at the workplace, improve the quality of data collected from research statistics and strengthen cooperation between law enforcement, health and social services in the criminal justice field.

"We came away hearing that some of the other countries are struggling with the same problems and are also trying to go in similar directions as Switzerland," commented Seber at the end of the two-day meeting.

She said there were clear signs that European countries recognised the benefits of the Pompidou Group continuing its work.

"It is a forum for a very open and informal dialogue where ideas can be exchanged. Switzerland, in particular, can ask what is actually happening within other states.

"Everybody can express what is happening without the outcome having to be some binding agreement. In that respect it is very important for Switzerland," she added.

swissinfo

Key facts

Nearly 25,000 heroin addicts live in Switzerland.
Two out of three users are in treatment programmes.
14,500 addicts are being treated with methadone, 1,300 with heroin and 500 with buprenorphine.

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In brief

The heroin plague reached a peak in Switzerland in the second half of the 1980s.

Heroin killed more than 400 users a year and spread disease (Aids and hepatitis), crime and prostitution.

In 1991 Switzerland launched a new strategy, based on the four pillars of prevention, deterrence, treatment, and harm reduction.

In the years to come, various harm reduction strategies were developed: heroin prescription programmes, needle exchanges, and sanitary injection sites.

Thanks in part to the new programmes, heroin use is declining and the mortality rate has been halved.

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