The Swiss way

The video embedded above is a short film by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU)

There was an increase in drug use in Switzerland in the late 1980s, particularly HIV and heroin injection. This became a growing problem and many people became concerned about this. Instead of arresting drug users, the police decided to use other measures. The video shows how Switzerland has successfully solved the drug problem through the introduction of an innovative national drug policy based on scientifically proven methods. HCLU Interviewed Professor Ambros Uchtenhagen, head of the first heroin maintenance program in Switzerland; Felix Lengweiler, the chief of security police and policing of narcotics crime at the Zurich City Police; and Uwe Serduelt, deputy director, Centre of Research on Direct Democracy at the Zurich University.

Health professionals believed that the harmful effects of drug injection could be controlled effectively and efficiently by public health programs, rather than brutal policing. Switzerland’s system of “direct democracy,” allowed the public to challenge government policy and law. Swiss authorities, therefore, had to justify policy change that would convince the public. There was movement away from Switzerland’s traditional policing-based drug policy. As heroin injection was one of the main concerns of the public health officials, the Swiss authorized low-threshold methadone programs, needle exchanges (including in prisons), and safe injection rooms.

The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health found that there were many advantages to heroin- assisted therapy. It was practical, cost-effective, and caused significant health improvements among patients and a dramatic reduction in drug-related crime. This programme was a success as it drew much awareness and international attention. 

According to the Swiss, the drug policy is based on four main things: policing, prevention of drug use, treatment of drug use, and harm reduction. The decriminalization of cannabis proposal was rejected, illustrating the complex political environment from which 

Swiss drug policy has emerged. Some advocates argue that the Swiss approach to harm reduction has over-medicalized drug policy, which has resulted in neglecting the consequences that drug users face such as poverty and social exclusion. The Swiss drug policy has been hugely successful and has enriched narcotic drug policy research and practice in the world. More information can be found here.