Heroin maintenance (again)

Is England considering adopting Denmark’s heroin maintenance approach?

Some might think this initiative is not surprising in a country with a historical tradition of progressive, social democratic policies….

“Five years ago I decided I would not participate in yet another debate on drugs,” recalls Preben Brandt, the chairman of the Council for Socially Marginalised People and an advocate of the policy. “It was too emotional, with different groups being very aggressive.”

“The counter-argument was always ‘you kill people by giving heroin’ or ‘with this initiative, you are telling people that taking heroin is OK’,” he says. “It is very difficult to have a rational debate when you are arguing against beliefs.”

The turning point came when results became available from experiments trialling the policy in other European countries, including Switzerland and the Netherlands. “The politicians became convinced that it could help those with the most severe drug problems,” says Mads Uffe Pedersen, the head of the Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research at the University of Aarhus. “You could not argue against the (positive) findings.”

“The debate became more practical,” agrees Brandt. “It was about what policies worked and which ones did not. It was no longer about morality.”

Attitudes towards drugs addicts improved too. “Drug addicts in Denmark are less stigmatised,” says Brandt. “They are no longer perceived as criminals who are a danger to society. They’re seen as patients who have a disease they need help with. The new scapegoats in Denmark are the foreigners.”

I doubt this is near in England. And, call me crusty, but I find it difficult to believe that the motives here are to help addicts and that stigma has been reduced by a policy premised on the assumption that addiction is untreatable.