Page last updated June 9, 2020 by Doug McVay, Editor/Senior Policy Analyst.

11. Swiss Harm Reduction Policy

"The activities of the FOPH [Federal Office of Public Health] in the area of harm reduction up until now have proved to be effective and will be continued. Nevertheless, because of changes in the nature of the substances consumed, of the patterns of consumption and of the target groups, it is necessary to adapt the concept of harm reduction in order to take it on to a further stage. Existing gaps in the services available – with regards both to particular areas of Switzerland as well as specific contexts and issues – are to be closed.
"– Financing Infodrog, the Swiss Office for the Coordination of Addiction Facilities, to support the range of services offered in the area of harm reduction and interlinking these with services aimed at therapy and prevention
"– Enhancing quality by certifying institutions according to a flexible, modular quality standard
"– Formulating the basic principles for need and demand-oriented harm reduction including encouraging pilot projects
"– Keeping further training abreast of the latest knowledge and developments as well as the promotion of career development opportunities for harm reduction specialists
"– Strengthening measures aimed at preventing hepatitis infection and HIV/Aids
"– Clarifying the requirements for harm reduction and therapeutic services in prisons
"– Expanding the interface between harm reduction and prevention"

Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, "Switzerland’s National Drugs Policy: The federal government’s third package of measures to reduce drug-related problems (MaPaDro III) 2006?2011," p. 21.

12. Drugs Policy Becomes Lower Priority in Switzerland

"In 1995 the last open drug scene, the Letten in Zurich, was closed. After that the importance attached to the drug problem in opinion polls decreased. Today only a handful of people still regard the drug issue as one of our country’s most pressing problems. At the same time, the number of motions in Parliament connected with drugs policy has also fallen. Pressure on the part of the public and from politicians is thus currently very slight, while at the same time a number of drugs policy measures are being queried due to increasing pressure for public spending cuts.
"A planned amendment to the Narcotics Act which also provided for the decriminalisation of cannabis use sparked renewed controversy for a time in 2002. Opinion polls showed that on the issue of cannabis there was no clear majority among the public for any one policy. The amendment of the law, which would also have included the incorporation of the four pillar policy into legislation, failed to get through Parliament in 2004.
"Despite the demonstrable successes in drugs policy, it has not yet proved possible to incorporate the four pillar policy into legislation. A National Council committee is currently working on a draft for a partial revision of the Narcotics Act, which would lead to the policy being made part of legislation. The cannabis issue is to be excluded and dealt with instead through the popular initiative 'For a rational hemp policy with effective protection of young people'."

Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, "Switzerland’s National Drugs Policy: The federal government’s third package of measures to reduce drug-related problems (MaPaDro III) 2006-2011" (2006), p. 11.

13. Harm Reduction Policies and Incidence of HIV

"For the last 15 years, the federal government has therefore been supporting a variety of measures (e.g. needle-exchange programs, injection rooms, housing and employment programs) in order to improve the health and the lifestyle of drug addicts and to prevent the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases. Compared with the late 1980s, the incidence of new HIV infections among drug addicts has decreased significantly."

"The Swiss Drug Policy: A fourfold approach with special consideration of the medical prescription of the medical prescription of narcotics," Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (Bern, Switzerland: SFOPH, March 1999), p. 7.

14. Zurich's 'Needle Park'

"Increasingly desperate to find a way to control crime and social and health harms associated with injection drug use, in 1987 the Zürich authorities allowed people who used illicit drugs to gather in a defined space near the main train station—the Platzspitz park, which sat on a small spit of land surrounded by the water of two converging rivers (Grob 1995). This space came to be known as the 'needle park.' Up to 1,000 drug users per day would come to the park at its peak (Grob 2010). Surveys conducted in the Platzspitz showed that by 1990 these included not only young people but significant numbers of older working and professional adults among whom heroin use had spread (Grob 1995)."

Csete, Joanne, "From the Mountaintops: What the World Can Learn from Drug Policy Change in Switzerland," Global Drug Policy Program (New York, NY: Open Society Foundations, May 2010), p. 14.

15. Decline in Incidence of Heroin Use

"The incidence of regular heroin use in the canton of Zurich started with about 80 new users in 1975, increased to 850 in 1990, and declined to 150 in 2002, and was thus reduced by 82%. Incidence peaked in 1990 at a similar high level to that ever reported in New South Wales, Australia, or in Italy. But only in Zurich has a decline by a factor of four in the number of new users of heroin been observed within a decade. This decline in incidence probably pertains to the whole of Switzerland because the number of patients in substitution treatment is stable, the age of the substituted population is rising, the mortality caused by drugs is declining, and confiscation of heroin is falling. Furthermore, incidence trends did not differ between urban and rural regions of Zurich. This finding is suggestive of a more similar spatial dynamic of heroin use for Switzerland than for other countries."

Nordt, Carlos, and Rudolf Stohler, "Incidence of Heroin Use in Zurich, Switzerland: A Treatment Case Register Analysis," The Lancet, Vol. 367, June 3, 2006, p. 1833.