This award-winning series of stories reported in late 2018 explores how Switzerland, France and other European countries implemented drug policies and programs that have diminished their rates of opioid overdose and related infections.
Both the Swiss and the French accomplished this by supporting drug users in different ways.
Switzerland led Europe with the first drug consumption rooms and heroin assisted treatment facilities. The Swiss approach is all about removing barriers and getting the majority of drug users into treatment. This resulted in trickled down benefits for law enforcement as the street drug market weakened and the theft rate dropped.
The French approach is about seeing drug users as people first and supporting the whole person. There are more than 300 harm reduction centers, that include needle exchanges, places to shower, do laundry, meet with social workers, psychiatrists and medical doctors. In addition to that, there are 480 addiction treatment facilities. The whole network works together to support drug users to live their best lives.
Opioid death rates in the U.S. continue to rise, despite efforts to curb the epidemic of deaths by overdose. On the other side of the Atlantic, overdose deaths have plummeted. What are they doing differently?
Switzerland had out of control, open drug scenes in the 1980s. People were dying in the streets, so the Swiss took drastic measures to reduce the deaths and get people into treatment. Their approach is effective and unorthodox.
This is the second in our series exploring how Switzerland has dealt with opioid addiction in different — and sometimes controversial — ways cutting overdose deaths and related infections.
Thilo Beck, who directs the heroin-assisted treatment program in Zurich, talks about the difficulty in convincing his colleagues that using heroin is a viable way to maintain substance users.
In Switzerland, France and other European countries, health officials find safe consumption facilities help drive down rates of disease transmission, overdose and even consumption.
France found that in order to reach people who use drugs, they first need to have a place where they’re comfortable enough to relax.
Officials in the U.S. have been reluctant to embrace some of the more “radical” pieces of European drug control and harm reduction policy, even as the body count rises.
But some officials are starting to broaden their thinking. Will it be enough? And will it be soon enough?