Home Institution

Georgetown University

Publication Date

Fall 2022

Program Name

Switzerland: Global Health and Development Policy


In the 1980s, Switzerland was embroiled in two simultaneous crises: widespread heroin use and spreading HIV/AIDS. Zurich became the capital of heroin consumption, with groups gathering in public parks and sharing needles to inject heroin. In response to these crises, several Swiss cities started conducting randomized control trials where they offered prescription heroin to help people addicted to heroin consume the drug safely and eventually recover from their addiction. As these trials reported positive results of maintaining better health outcomes for those undergoing treatment, the Swiss people supported federally legalizing heroin-assisted treatment and expanding access to harm reduction services in every canton. One of the largest concerns about this policy response was that prescribing heroin would make the drug appear safe to use, encouraging more young people to consume it. This outcome never came to be true, and since these policies were implemented nationally, heroin use among adolescents 15- to 24-years-old has decreased. However, adolescent use of other drugs such as cannabis and cocaine has increased, and drug addiction continues to be a highly stigmatized issue. Young people appear to have traded one drug for another without necessarily using substances in a safer manner. Additionally, stigma at the structural and individual level continues to unfairly differentiate people with addictive disorders from the rest of the population. To further protect young people from dangerous drug consumption and destigmatize addiction, the Swiss cantons and federal government should expand prevention programs that highlight how to consume drugs safely and break down stereotypes of people with addictive disorders.


European Languages and Societies | Health Policy | Medicine and Health | Other Chemicals and Drugs | Substance Abuse and Addiction


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