A study Baltimore’s Abell Foundation concludes that programs that give heroin to hard-core addicts can reduce crime and improve public health, says the Baltimore Sun. Some hope the findings will spur renewed debate about whether such an effort could help combat the city’s unrelenting drug problem. Peter Reuter, a drug policy expert at the University of Maryland, analyzed heroin maintenance programs in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, and Vancouver, Canada. He found some positive results. In Germany, participants were less likely to commit crimes; in Switzerland, many addicts moved from the heroin distribution program to drug treatment.
While Reuter notes drawbacks – including high costs and low rates of participation – he says public health officials and city leaders should at least discuss the concept. “It is a sensible innovation to consider,” he said. “I am not a passionate advocate for it, but I do think someone should try it.” The issue raises thorny moral and legal questions and is politically contentious. Baltimore officials call the report unconvincing and say they would not consider the option, especially when proved treatments go underfunded. “I think it would be a mistake to pursue an expensive and unproven idea when we need more resources for effective drug treatment,” said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, city health commissioner. “There’s nothing that persuades me to invest in something that is so expensive and without evidence.”
Heroin maintenance programs seek to lure addicts into treatment, not act as a replacement for it, Reuter said. Some researchers believe that once addicts are removed from the drug lifestyle, they can realize the need for help.