Norway has announced that it will provide heroin to addicts via its healthcare service.
Health Minister Bent Høie used a Facebook post to announce the policy, writing: “We hope that this will provide a solution that will give… a better quality of life to some addicts who are today out of our reach and whom current programmes do not help enough.”
A trial of the programme is due to begin in 2020, reports The Daily Mail, with as many as 400 addicts receiving drugs from the state.
The scheme has long been mooted by drug health advocates and public safety advocates, who claim that such a programme would curtail addiction-related crime and would result in less drug-related deaths.
Norway suffers from a disproportionately high number of drug-related fatalities, with 81 deaths per million people in 2015. For comparison, the UK has a rate of 66 drug deaths per million, which includes overdoses, murders committed while on drugs and traffic accidents caused by impaired drivers.
Other Northern European countries – Iceland with 221, Sweden with 124 and Estonia with 103 – are high up the list, which is topped by the United States with a massive 245 deaths per million inhabitants.
Scandinavian countries have lead the way in the progressive treatment of heroin addicts, with Denmark operating needle exchanges and prescribing legal heroin to addicts since 2010.
“Some of the users have better contact with their families,” said Katrine Schepelern Johansen, an academic at the University of Copenhagen. “Some have started to do sports as part of the treatment offer, and others have found the energy to take care of their own physical illnesses.”
One of the key drivers behind the policy change was the statistic that showed that as many Danes died due to drug abuse as died in traffic accidents.
The Danish government resolved that, by providing addicts with the drug that they crave, they would reduce related crime and provide a product that was less likely to result in overdoses and deaths.
That said, it has not been a complete success.
“The users are frustrated about having to show up at the clinic twice a day every day of the week, and that they’re being monitored before, during and after treatment,” said Johansen.
“Through my interviews I have seen that those who are in treatment have improved their lives. Less stress has made it easier for them to get through the day,” she concluded.