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Argument: Harm reduction drug policies work in many countries

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Ethan A. Nadelmann. National Review Online.: "harm reduction. That concept holds that drug policies need to focus on reducing crime, whether engendered by drugs or by the prohibition of drugs. And it holds that disease and death can be diminished even among people who can't, or won't, stop taking drugs. This pragmatic approach is followed in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia, and parts of Germany, Austria, Britain, and a growing number of other countries.

American drug warriors like to denigrate the Dutch, but the fact remains that Dutch drug policy has been dramatically more successful than U.S. drug policy. The average age of heroin addicts in the Netherlands has been increasing for almost a decade; HIV rates among addicts are dramatically lower than in the United States; police don't waste resources on non-disruptive drug users but, rather, focus on major dealers or petty dealers who create public nuisances. The decriminalized cannabis markets are regulated in a quasi-legal fashion far more effective and inexpensive than the U.S. equivalent.

The Swiss have embarked on a national experiment of prescribing heroin to addicts. The two-year-old plan, begun in Zurich, is designed to determine whether they can reduce drug- and prohibition-related crime, disease, and death by making pharmaceutical heroin legally available to addicts at regulated clinics. The results of the experiment have been sufficiently encouraging that it is being extended to over a dozen Swiss cities. Similar experiments are being initiated by the Dutch and Australians. There are no good scientific or ethical reasons not to try a heroin-prescription experiment in the United States.

Our Federal Government puts politics over science by ignoring extensive scientific evidence that sterile syringes can reduce the spread of AIDS. Connecticut permitted needle sales in drugstores in 1992, and the policy resulted in a 40 per cent decrease in needle sharing among injecting drug users, at no cost to taxpayers.

We see similar foolishness when it comes to methadone. Methadone is to street heroin more or less what nicotine chewing-gum and skin patches are to cigarettes. Hundreds of studies, as well as a National Academy of Sciences report last year, have concluded that methadone is more effective than any other treatment in reducing heroin-related crime, disease, and death. In Australia and much of Europe, addicts who want to reduce or quit their heroin use can obtain a prescription for methadone from a GP and fill the prescription at a local pharmacy. In the United States, by contrast, methadone is available only at highly regulated and expensive clinics."

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