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Swiss expreriment with prescription heroin. -

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The Swiss government continues its roll out of a program that organises and provides for free
heroin for hardcore drug addicts.


LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Can you imagine the controversy in Australia if the Government organised
and paid for free heroin for hardcore drug addicts? Well that's exactly what's happening in

A year ago, a referendum there approved a heroin program for addicts who failed every attempt to
get off the drug. It followed a long-term trial which supporters believe has had benefits for both
the users and society at large. Europe correspondent Philip Williams visited one heroin clinic in
the Swiss capital, Berne, and a warning, this story contains images of illicit drug use.

I would be dead by today, because I took so much heroin and most of all cocaine and I was about
still 45 kilos. I would be dead.

PHILIP WILLIAMS, REPORTER: Twice a day every day Evelyn makes the journey to this clinic in the
Swiss capital Berne. Here she's given a pure dose of heroin, supplied by the state under a
tightly-controlled program for addicts. It's not a routine she likes, but as one of 200 addicts in
Berne who've failed all attempts to get them off heroin, this is the last resort.

EVELYN, HEROIN ADDICT: I'm still on heroin, but I don't drink anymore, I don't run after the drugs,
I don't have to lie to anybody anymore, which not all of the people who are in the program have
this chance. I can lead a normal life and can concentrate on life and not on any substitutes to
make me feel like a normal person.

CHRISTOPH BUERKI, CLINIC DIRECTOR: What we have here is the heart of our place, it's the safe with
the heroin in it.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Doctor Chris Buerki runs the Berne clinic. He's a passionate advocate for the
program he says saves addict's lives and dramatically cuts crime.

CHRISTOPH BUERKI: So once a patient enters our treatment, he would very much, to a large degree -
and the statistics have proven that - would reduce his illegal activity. So that's a very, very
important point also for society.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Of course your critics say you're just feeding that addiction, you're not actually
controlling it, you're just giving it out.

CHRISTOPH BUERKI: They come here for the heroin, but once you have them in treatment you start
working with them. You work on their social issues, you work on their relations with other people,
family and so on. You work on their jobs, on their health - somatic as well as psychiatric health.
So there's a whole lot of treatment involved in it.

SABINE GEISSBUHLER, PARENTS AGAINST DRUGS: I think it's very bad because there is no goal to make
them free of drugs.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Despite last year's referendum that approved of the long-running heroin trial by a
two-thirds majority, the program does have its critics, those who argue alternative therapies such
as abstinence should be tried instead.

SABINE GEISSBUHLER: Because you can't get free from a drug if you give it. It's like with alcohol:
it's everywhere. If you want to go free you have to leave it, really.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Jason wishes he could stop using heroin, but says talk of alternative therapies
ignore the reality of the drug.

JASON, HEROIN ADDICT: Heroin is a very heavy drug and it's hard to, you know - so, yeah, if they
really say don't give it to us, then you'd have to say put us to gaol. But I mean, is that the
right way? I don't think so.

Before I was in the program, I was totally down to the floor. I was not even 60 kilos. I lost my
job, I lost my apartment, I looked like shit. And then when I came here I was able to work again, I
gained quite a lot of weight since then also and, yeah, I can be a part of - be back to life, you
know. I feel good, I can work, I can do things. I don't look like a junky.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: If you didn't have this program, what would have happened to you?

JASON: I would probably be dead. I'm quite sure I would be dead.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Many did die in the 1990s when thousands of addicts gathered in parks throughout
Switzerland. This was the scene in this Berne park, a short distance from the Parliament - dealing,
using and dying, with the authorities turning a blind eye to it all.

EVELYN: It's dirty and slippery. One could fall all the time because there are a lot of places
where you can go down where there was only dirt.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Evelyn has come a long way since the mud and mayhem of this very park, a place
they had to remove the first metre of top soil because it was so full of used needles.

And here she is back in 1997, filmed as part of the heroin trial story for the ABC's Foreign
Correspondent. Back then, she'd started on the heroin program, had a job and her health was
improving. She felt she had a future, back from the degradation on the streets.

EVELYN (Foreign Correspondent, 1997): The worst time was in winter when, for instance, it was
raining or cold or snowing and just waiting there and feeling bad. It was the worst time, actually.
Begging in the streets, for instance, or even prostitution. I didn't do that very much, but I did
it too. I hated myself for this.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: 12 years later and she's still dependent on the twice-daily injections of a drug
she just can't shake. Evidence of failure, say the critics, but as she points out, she's still
alive and isn't committing crimes to feed her habit.

Do you feel like you lead a relatively normal life now?

EVELYN: Well, I do. I'm a more or less fully functioning member of society. I don't even have
social welfare. I can bring the money up for myself alone with work and, yes, well ...

PHILIP WILLIAMS: And without the program?

EVELYN: Without the program, I've no idea. How I said: if it wouldn't have started by this time
then I would be dead.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Evelyn still harbours dreams of being drug-free and it may never happen, but then
middle age and a stable, productive life were things she never expected to experience either.

For conservative Switzerland, it looks like a radical solution, but two-thirds of the people voted
for it. There are still opponents, but supporters say it's a model that could work in places like
Australia too.

Philip Williams, Lateline.