Netherlands' free heroin distribution program could serve as possible model for US

The Netherlands has distributed heroin to its citizens via supervised injection sites or heroin treatment centers since the 90s. Dutch public health experts cite these actions as one reason the country sees significantly fewer opioid-related deaths than the U.S., according to Cleveland.com.

The Netherlands reported just 235 fatal opioid overdoses in 2016, compared to 4,050 in Ohio, alone, for the same year.

The country launched the heroin distribution program in 1988. To qualify for the program, individuals must be at least 35 years old, a regular user for at least five years and have a record of repeatedly unsuccessful treatment efforts, which includes methadone-maintenance therapy, meaning the program offered in the Netherlands is a last resort.

The Netherlands' federal distribution of heroin is rooted in three key concepts:

1. Drug addiction should be seen as a chronic disorder — rather than a condition needing to be cured — and may be best treated with supervised drug use.

2. Treatment does not mean stopping drug use, which in clinical settings reduces criminal activity and improves patient well-being.

3. Policies affecting public health should be created by practical application, instead of moral choices.

Ellen van den Hoogen, who manages a heroin clinic in Amsterdam, said the program has helped reduce crime rates and improve overall quality of life for heroin users, according to Cleveland.com.

Peter Blanken, PhD, a senior researcher with the Parnassia Addiction Research Centre in Rotterdam, found 1 in 4 program participants make a complete recovery, which includes better overall  health and less illegal drug use and excessive alcohol consumption.

While some policy experts said the program could serve as a possible model for the U.S., Cleveland.com acknowledged the country "has not even begun to debate whether to embrace heroin-assisted treatment," according to the report.

More articles on opioids: 

Pennsylvania governor rolls out opioid prescription guidelines for injured workers
1 in 10 children prescribed opioids for pain in Tennessee, study finds
This state leads the US in driving down opioid prescriptions, says BCBS report

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