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An overwhelming majority of voters in Switzerland approved a measure Nov. 30, making a government-run heroin program permanent. In the same election, voters said “no” to legalizing marijuana. The European country adopted its heroin program in 1994 in an effort to cut down on crime and give addicts a safe way to get high. Prior to that, scores of addicts could be seen openly shooting up in public parks and other spaces. Heroin, an opiate synthesized from morphine, is doled out in 23 centers across Switzerland where 1,300 addicts visit twice a day to receive controlled doses of heroin.

The drug is manufactured in a government-approved laboratory. The 1,300 people selected for the program shoot up under the supervision of nurses who offer clean syringes and paraphernalia to cut down on the spread of diseases including HIV and hepatitis.
Counseling from social workers and psychiatrists is also offered to users in the program. Approximately 2.6 million Swiss voters cast their ballots, with 68% in favor of the program. A citizens’ initiative to decriminalize marijuana failed after 63% of voters said “no.”


The program has received sharp criticism from countries including the United States, where legalizing such a powerful narcotic drug is thought of as promoting drug use. Other countries see the benefit in such a program. Australian and Canadian governments are considering similar programs based on the Swiss model, and the Netherlands has had a heroin program in place since 2006. The Associated Press reports that Britain has allowed individual doctors to prescribe heroin since the 1920s but is running a trial based on the Swiss program. Other countries running trials include Belgium, Germany and Spain, according to the AP.


Addiction happens quickly for many when it comes to heroin and other opiates including OxyContin, Vicodin, Fentanyl and morphine. As addiction rates climb around the world, governments are scrambling to figure out how to cut down on associated crime, overpopulated prisons and disease. Social implications of addiction are costly for everyone.

The prospect of a free market for heroin is frightening for many who believe it will compound the problems associated with it. But many argue the problem with illegal drugs isn’t the drugs themselves, but rather the black market created to support them.
Many criticize the war on drugs, saying the criminalization of heroin and other substances takes the focus off what they consider a medical problem. Some say the billions of dollars spent on the legal, criminal and medical costs of drugs would be better spent on education, prevention and treatment.

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