The local politicians admitted that it was a risky solution standing only a slim chance of success. Nevertheless, Amsterdam city hall petitioned the Dutch government June 13 for permission to dispense free heroin to addicts in order to combat the everrising tide of drug addiction in the city. Late last month, despite heated opposition in the Dutch parliament, the secretary of state for health, Johannes Van Der Reijden, agreed to study the controversial scheme.
Amsterdam’s politicians feel a sense of urgency. In May hundreds of incensed residents of the picturesque Zeedijk district staged a sit-in at city hall to demand that the city deal with the
estimated 8,000 hard-drug users who make their quarter the hub of the Dutch city’s busy narcotics scene. Amsterdam (population 840,000) once was one of the most pleasant cities in Europe. But it has grown so squalid and unsafe because of the narcotics subculture that many tourists are giving it a wide berth. Since the mid-1970s an average of 40 deaths have occurred each year as a direct result of overdoses and drug-related illness; accidents and violence account for hundreds more.
“The city’s plight is desperate enough to call for the boldest of remedies,” said alderman Tineke Van Den Klinkenberg, a prime mover of the pilot scheme that aims to supply about 200 Amsterdam addicts with heroin under strict medical control. “We want simply to fight the problem at one of its roots— how users obtain their heroin—in the
hope that it will stop addicts from preying on the community.”
Predictably, Amsterdam’s answer to its drug dilemma ran into opposition from members of Holland’s right-wing federal government, the Amsterdam police, Dutch clergymen and many doctors who thought it could lead to abuse. “You do not stamp out a social evil by feeding it,” said a Protestant minister.
For their part, police fear that the program could trigger an invasion of foreign addicts eager to apply for heroin handouts. Amsterdam city hall spokesman Nicole Van Gelder insists that only registered Amsterdam residents will receive the drug.
The main objection of the Amster-
dam police’s narcotic squad is that addicts enrolled in the heroin program could—as when Britain introduced a similar scheme in 1968—quickly find a way to adulterate their daily ration in order to sell a portion on the street. Indeed, narcotics experts give the plan little chance of working. Said Amsterdam police drug chief Barry de Konninh: “Once the regulars in the drifting hard-drug scene realize that in order to qualify they will need to register as residents and submit to medical supervision, they will shun the program like the plague, leaving the core of the problem untouched.” Undaunted, Amsterdam intends to submit complete details of the scheme to the federal government and hopes, according to spokesman Van Gelder, for parliamentary approval of free heroin injections by the end of this year.
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