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Canada to test giving away heroin to addicts (2/16/05)
The Canadian health system is on schedule to begin distributing free heroin (and clean needles) to heroin addicts in several major cities. Documented addicts will receive 'maintenance' doses of heroin; amounts of pure, pharmaceutical grade heroin deemed sufficient to keep the addict comfortable without becoming an all-you-can-shoot drug buffet.
Although the program is sure to create controversy, similar programs have performed well in other countries (notably the Netherlands), reducing property crime, the spread of disease, and accidental overdose.
This harm reduction approach stands in stark contrast to traditional American methods, such as passing laws to prevent addicts access to clean needles in the hopes of discouraging use. There is no evidence that lack of clean needles did reduce rates of drug injection in the US, although at it's peak in the 1980s such restrictions contributed to 10,000 new AIDS cases a year due to sharing needles.
In spite of some of the most repressive drug laws in the world, the US remains the largest consumer nation of illegal drugs: An American is twice as likely to be a marijuana user as somebody in the 'soft on pot' Netherlands.