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February 19, 2007 - The Independent (UK)

A Liberal Experiment That Is Sweeping The World

By Leonard Doyle

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

In the shadows of Frankfurt's gleaming glass towers an undistinguished six-storey building serves as a safe injection area for heroin addicts.

Along with the heroin room, there is a medical station, a counselling centre, a crack-smoking room and on the top two floors, a 24-hour shelter, complete with a cafe run by the addicts.

By the late 1980s Frankfurt's police had lost the battle to control drug use. When Deutsche Bank AG decided to build its new headquarters near the red light district city officials decided that the last thing they wanted was bankers rubbing shoulders with addicts.

Frankfurt is one of about 40 cities in Europe and Australia where safe injection sites have been embraced by police and health officials as an essential tool of urban drug policy.

Berlin has set up mobile safe injection sites in vans that travel to areas where addicts congregate. Sometimes they are accompanied by a second van with medical and dental facilities.

Only America demands a fundamentalist line in the so-called "war on drugs" and balks at prescribing heroin to addicts.

The introduction of heroin-injecting centres in Switzerland has reportedly led to an 82 percent decrease in its use since 1990.

According to a study published in the medical journal The Lancet it has "changed the image of heroin use as a rebellious act to an illness that needs therapy ... Heroin seems to have become a 'loser drug,' with its attractiveness fading for young people."

"It is time for England to catch up with Holland, Germany and Switzerland, and provide a small amount of this high-cost treatment as part of the mainstream service," said Michael Farrell, consultant psychiatrist at the National Addiction Centre in London.

In North America, Vancouver has a major heroin problem. Emaciated prostitutes can be seen shooting up outside soup kitchens.

Now with preparations for the 2010 Winter Olympics in full swing, the Canadian city, routinely voted the world's most attractive to live in, has a potential public relations disaster on its hands.

Despite the US muttering dark threats, the city has opened a heroin administration clinic and is watching nervously to see whether the area attracts even more drug use and lawlessness or helps mitigate the uglier side of heroin addiction.

Supporters say that injection centres reduce drug use in parks and that there are fewer discarded syringes on the streets.

A review by the EU's Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction concludes:

"[The] longer the exposure to consumption rooms, the greater the reduction in high-risk behaviour."

The United Nations' narcotics control which adheres to Washington's hard line on drugs, flatly opposes injection facilities.

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