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Saturday 20 December  
Free heroin brings everyone a bit of peace
Thijs Westerbeek's picture
Utrecht, Netherlands
Utrecht, Netherlands

Free heroin brings everyone a bit of peace

Published on : 21 August 2010 - 8:00am | By Thijs Westerbeek van Eerten (Photo: Flickr/merlinprincesse)
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Government-supplied free heroine for heroine addicts. It sounds crazy, but a decade after just such a project began in Utrecht, it seems like it actually works.

Both addicts and their carers speak very positively of the once-controversial project. The ‘patients’ no longer need to steal to buy their daily shots and some have even got themselves jobs. The nuisance caused by addicts in Utrecht – and now in many other major cities as well – has all but disappeared and there are few new addicts appearing on the scene. Society is no longer paying for their petty theft and illness.

The success of free supply has also got through to politicians in The Hague. Heroin became an official medicine in 2006. Last year, MPs passed legislation designating supply of the drug under medical supervision as a recognised treatment of ‘therapy resistant’ addicts.

Old people’s home
There are at present 17 clinics in the Netherlands where addicts can be given free heroin. In Rotterdam, there’s even a special home for elderly addicts. There too, most of the critics have fallen silent.

Free supply in the Utrecht clinic is strictly monitored via cameras and two-way mirrors. Co-ordinator Tinka Hille explains: “Of course, we don’t want them smuggling the stuff out of the building.” The patients are allowed to smoke exact amounts of the drug on the premises three times a day.

Chemically produced
The heroin is pure and is produced chemically. It does not contain any impurities as can occur in the naturally produced variety. The strength of the drug is also constant, allowing exact doses to be measured. This is important as the chemically produced heroin is much stronger than the illicit product.

The danger that addicts will try to get onto a programme offering free heroin for life – one of the most persistent criticisms - is played down by Ms Hille: “An addict has to be rock bottom before he or she can be considered for the programme. You’ve got to have tried and failed to kick the habit a number of times. Even addicts don’t want to get to that point.”

The cost of supplying free heroin is also a point of criticism. Are the benefits worth the investment?

“Free supply costs 17,000 euros per client per year,” she explains. “It sounds like a lot, but the savings on hospital fees, legal and policing expenses and the general crime costs are far greater. Society is on average nearly 13,000 euros better off per patient per year.”

A commission which looked into the programme has confirmed its cost effectiveness.

None of the addicts in the Utrecht programme have been in trouble with the law since starting the treatment. The mere fact that they know they will get their heroin every day means they are calm. They don’t need to steal any more. They can even think about what they want to do with what’s left of their lives. They used to spend the whole day just worrying about scoring.

Three of Ms Hille’s clients have got themselves little jobs. Betty is one of them, but she doesn’t want to be interviewed: “It frightens me.” She works as a cleaner in the clinic where she gets her daily heroin dose. During the talk with her co-ordinator, she carries steadily on with her polishing. Then she has time for a smoke and chat with the porter.

“Look,” says Ms Hille. “That’s what it’s all about. A bit of peace and quiet, for the junkie and everyone else.”


andik4004 26 September 2014 - 8:10am / France

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Anonymous 10 August 2014 - 1:07pm / USA

How do i get this free Heroin for life?

Anonymous 10 August 2014 - 1:12pm / USA

Seriously, how do I get this Heroin now??? I need it, how long is this gonna take, or is this just some crazy old web page? HELP!!!!

Anonymous 10 November 2011 - 9:15pm / USA

I feel that this is just a way to get crime off the streets and provide enough time to sit back and really focus on the problem. If you can keep an addict from running around trying to score, then you can sit him down long enough to really talk to him/her about the REAL problem. I think this is a great thing.

Robert Gordon 22 April 2011 - 3:09pm / The Netherlands

The fibor cartalidge in my neck is Disintegrating and it will only get worse. I take on average 240-260 M.G. of Oxycontin and Oxynorm per day. These meds worked for the first few months but done't have much effect anymore. I tried Methidone a few years ago for a different problem but they gave me a terible headache. There is no surgery that can help.I have been to a nurologist ( she gave me an M.R.I. ) as well as a orthopidic surgeon. I have been to an anesthesiolgist who put electricity in my neck and then a couple off months later he gave me 2 injections of steriods. Neither treatment worked. I will be going to a pain clinic on the 9th of May. This is my last hope. I was hoping that your clinic would treat me with herion in the hope that it will offer some pain relief. I know this is an unusual request but I'm existing and not living. Your office are than welcome to check my medical files chw With Regards,

Robert Gordon P.S. If this pain clinc does work then I wouldn"need the herion anymore,

Anonymous 15 October 2010 - 4:00am

“An addict has to be rock bottom before he or she can be considered for the programme. You’ve got to have tried and failed to kick the habit a number of times. Even addicts don’t want to get to that point.”

It's not a fun place to be. It's rather depressing. This is a way of coping, I believe, so that the suffering may be felt at a minimum.

BR Schwartz 27 August 2010 - 1:36pm / Nederlands

I am both a recovering addict and resident f the city of Utrecht. Many recovering addicts find this entire situation repulsive. Is it to say others craving are more horrible then our won that they can not get through them as |WE have. That is insidious.

“None of the addicts in the Utrecht programme have been in trouble with the law since starting the treatment”’ “abit of peace and quiet for everyone” according to ms. Hille….

Never the less these addicts slowly continue to commit suicide in their addiction and just so long as no one need to physically see the problem any longer, out of sight and out of mind.

It does not make any sense… Although I am sur3e Ms. Hille and her collegues enjoy the stability of their monthly paycheck.

This is an except from a meditation used in Addiction Recovery. I think it hits home.

Active addiction is a smoldering death-wish. Each of us courted death every time we used. Our lifestyles, too, put us at risk. The life of an addict is sold cheaply with every day and every dose.
In recovery, the first pattern we change is the pattern of using. Staying clean is the start of our journey into life. But our self-destructive behavior usually went far deeper than just our using. Even in recovery, we may still treat ourselves as if we are worthless. When we treat ourselves badly, we feel badly. And when we feel badly, we seek relief—maybe even in our old solution, drugs.
Choosing recovery means choosing life. We decide each day that we want to live and be free. Each time we avoid self-destructive behavior, we choose recovery.

Who is taking care of the lives of these dying addicts Ms Hille and her colleagues???

jakester 7 October 2010 - 11:05pm / usa

I feel very good that you have beat your addiction but are you now going to become one of those who now have no empathy for those still suffering? Addicts are in distress daily and you want to add to it! What if before you got clean you ended up in prison or with the bug would you still talk the same? Until we allow people to do to themselves what they will do there is no real freedom. Once upon a time in the USA alcohol was illegal and there was much viol;ence associated with the illegal market but once legalized all that went away why would drugs be any different???

Anonymous 5 October 2010 - 2:32pm / United States

Here here BR Schwartz. In English, we call this "sweeping the problem under the rug." Your point is so true. There are pre existing problems of which chemical dependency is simply a symptom. Who is addressing those problems? I can see this solution helps the addict remain an addict? But who helps the addcit to be clean and to pursue life without the weight of drug addiction? Who does this? Oh right, that is not the point. This is a solution designed for the benefit of the government and the city whose tourist survival requires the drug addict to not be seen.

Anonymous 20 September 2014 - 7:20pm / USA

Two problems. Two solutions.

Addicted person.
Criminally funded Supply.

This solution is ONLY for the supply problem. That is a big problem. Gangs running black markets. Black market full of unregulated product. The cost of product making addicts steal to be able to buy it.

The addicted person requires another solution, treatment. But that can't happen if the person is running around stealing and trying to get money to pay dealers. That can't happen while the market is there and a person susceptible to addiction wants heroin.

There is no one solution for the two problems. They have to be dealt with separately. You can't force people into treatment and expect it to work. The dealers will just lower prices for a while. You can't just give people heroin and expect them not to be addicts anymore. They have free access.

Treatment to fix the addicted person.
Give addicts free heroin to kill the black market and all its related problems.

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