Although now a much visited and beautiful place, Switzerland once had a huge drug problem that began to take over its streets as well as its population. Open drug use boomed around the 1990s, leading to thousands of addicts openly taking drugs such as heroin in streets and most notably in Zurich’s Platzspitz park. The problem got so large it was bigger than the current drug problems in most countries, yet they managed to dramatically lower their populations drug use rates as a whole, while less affected countries struggle to get a consistent slight drop in use. Why is this? Because of their strategy. Unlike most countries who have been battling their drug crises for years, Switzerland realised their war on drugs was having no effect on use rates and instead decided to tackle the problem to offer help and solution rather than to be rid of it.
Their new approach was heavily based around harm reduction rather than punishment. Rather than hitting addicts with charges and jail time, they instead offered them some support in dealing with their addiction and helped the homeless off of the streets. Doing this was difficult and time consuming but it worked. Achieved by offering services such as methadone programmes that offers a course of methadone (a heroin substitute) to help get heroin addicts off the drug. However for more heavy or long-term users this substitute did not work, leading them to offer a much more controversial treatment programme, handing out controlled doses of heroin. Alongside this, safe injection rooms were also put up over the country, offering addicts somewhere safe to take their drugs. The injection rooms offered medical supervision at all times, with beds, showers and most importantly hygienic conditions. With a syringe exchange programme where addicts could exchange used needles for new sterilised ones the Swiss’s new approach not only tried to reduce use, but also the disease heavily tied in with it.
Once their new policies and programmes started to take effect there was a dramatic reduction in drug related deaths and spread of diseases such as HIV. Crime rates related to drugs also dropped, easing pressure of the police service allowing them to focus on joining the motion to reduce overall drug use. The programmes put forward by the Swiss we designed to bring addicts out of hiding to get help by letting them know support was waiting, rather than harsh punishment. The current laws in Switzerland seem to be made with understanding of drug use in mind, the acknowledge they drug use exists but do not try to eradicate it in the common way. Penalties do still exist for drug possession, but they are usually not dealt as a criminal offence as police forces focus more on finding and punishing drug dealers rather than the victims of drug addiction.
Whilst over half of current drug users in the country are now seeking help and drug use has dropped drastically, like most anti drug policies the Swiss’s approach is not completely flaw proof. Even though most heroin users currently in treatment started the drug around the time these programmes began, there are still the occasional new users that pop up in the system. Cocaine use has also recently taken a rise, showing that no matter what the policy whether harsh or lenient drugs will always be found present in some shape or form. Deciding on what policies a country takes however should be based upon the welfare of its population and the best possible outcome for it.