First treatment programs that came about as a reaction to illegal drug trade in
the 60’s were based exclusively upon abstinence, unfortunately the direct
solution of criminalizing the user turned out to be incomplete.
Hence, more emphasis was put on different measures that started to be implemented. One of these was
the first injection site opened in 1982 as a self-regulated center. No governmental
backing was granted to harm reduction programs, Drug using communities had to organize
themselves to find shelters and tools , illegally at the time. The newly
adopted approach was based on therapy and treatment, measures previously had previously
been dismissed. New policies sought to reintegrate drug user back to the
society instead of stigmatizing them.
Zurich authorities made methadone, an alternative
drug, available to IDUs who previously didn’t have access to treatment.
In 1994, Zurich became the first place in
the world where therapy programs handed out heroin
long-term opiate users for whom methadone wouldn’t work.
Later on, retrieved data concerning the new
policies started to demonstrate signs of success. The communal system put in
place to help IDU was very much functioning ; police, social and medical
services were increasingly involved in harm reduction programs. Consequently, the
remaining “needle camps” in the center of the city was closed down by local authorities.
of concentrating all its efforts on the eradication of drugs, an effort that turned
out to be inefficient , Switzerland opted for a law that would manage this
crisis through a more realistic approach. This transition was embraced by Urban
departments from the start, however rural areas needed more time to accept the
The first experimental projects were set up
by associations or individuals that were getting tired of the persistence of
this condition. In the start, the government didn’t pay attention to the activities that were carried on, but on
the local level, organisations, social workers, doctors, and the police started
cooperating to find pragmatic solutions.
The Four Pillars model was born in this
context ( the foundation of its national drug strategy In an official document
dated September 7, 1994) The introduction of this strategy also brought about a
significant reduction of “deaths directly attributable to drug use, such as
overdose (OD), and of deaths indirectly related, such as HIV and Hepatitis.”
Between 1991 and 2004, the drug related death toll fell by more than 50%”2
(See figure 3). Additionally, levels of drug-related HIV infection were divided
by eight within ten years.
Even though the initial measures rapidly
produced the desired effects in urban areas, a large minority of the public
remained skeptical about harm reduction. Years
of policy ‘experimentation’ served to convince reluctant citizens of its worth.
The swiss model has proved that ideological
barriers can be overcame given a social context that is educated enough to integrate
drug policy focusing on social health and safety.
Heroin prescription removes the pressure
caused by the need to find money to buy drugs. After one year of treatment,
patients report a 100% drop in criminal behaviour (mostly burglary) and an 83%
drop in the sale of hard drugs. These facts are further supported in the
approximately 80% decrease in criminal offences, along with a 50% decrease in
the length of prison sentences. 3
1 Refer to the Article
by Knowlton, B. (1993, July 09).
European Topics : Zurich’s New Plan:Sell Addicts Heroin.
2 Data directly reported
from source survey : Savary, J., Hallam, C. and Bewley-Taylor, D.
(2009). THE SWISS FOUR PILLARS POLICY: An Evolution From Local
Experimentation to Federal Law. THE BECKLEY FOUNDATION DRUG POLICY PROGRAMME.
3 Aebi, M. F., Ribeaud D., Killias, M., 1999. ‘Prescription médicale de stupéfiants et délinquance. Résultats
des essais Suisses.’ Criminologie, vol. 32, n.2.)