Drug policy at the time of the “Platzspitz” and its continuation

by Sabina Geissbühler-Strupler*

On the board of our Swiss association “Eltern gegen Drogen” (Parents against Drugs), founded at the beginning of the nineties and of which I am president, some people are involved who were in some way affected by the misery of addicts at that time.
  At that time other associations were also founded to fight against the drug policy of the ideologically motivated legalisation lobby, for example “Gesunde Jugend” (Healthy Youth), “Jugend ohne Drogen” (Youth without Drugs), “Ärzte gegen Drogen” (Doctors against Drugs), “Vereinigung ehemals Süchtiger” (Association of Former Addicts).
  In the German-speaking part of Switzerland, the positions of the media, the welfare and social services, but also the drug policy were occupied by so-called experts in addiction issues. Their strategy was that the state had to grant every individual “the right to be allowed to consume drugs”. The state itself should grow or buy “clean narcotics”, control them and dispense them at the expense of the health insurance companies. To get the Swiss population to agree to this plan, drug trafficking and consumption were allowed to continue in the cities without police intervention until the misery in the open drug scenes was obvious. Also the safety of the population was no longer guaranteed. With gruesome footage of the open drug scenes, the media tried to change public opinion in favour of drug liberalisation and a yes to state distribution of narcotics such as methadone and heroin.
  At that time, hundreds of scientific studies on the dangers of cannabis use were available, but these were ignored by the responsible so-called “Suchtexperten” (addiction experts). Parents, members of the authorities and politicians were also often poorly informed. The fact that cannabis impairs concentration, reaction, performance and memory, and can often lead to school drop-outs and drop-outs from teaching, was suppressed. The fact that smoking pot can be responsible for the onset of psychosis or schizophrenia could already be read about in various scientific publications in the 1990s.

Dangerous trivialisation and availability of addictive substances

At that time, I was a concerned mother of four teenagers. It was suggested to young people that intoxicants were part of a cool lifestyle. It was also possible to get drugs anywhere, and there were more and more addicts who could pump themselves full of drugs for years without being bothered.
  Today, unfortunately, the same drug legalisation lobby is again pulling out all the stops to further water down and undermine the narcotics law and, most recently, to make it absurd with an “experimentation” article. This would lead to the destruction of many more lives.

Jeanne Hersch:
Freedom and drug use are mutually exclusive

Fortunately, we found support at that time from courageous people like Professor Jeanne Hersch, a philosophy professor in Geneva. She followed the development of Swiss drug policy with great concern and took the following stand: “Freedom of choice is an essential part of being human. Drug use, however, prevents people from being truly human. The drug user loses his freedom and his ability to take responsibility for himself and others. That is why it is a pure perversion of thought to claim that it is part of human rights to be allowed to use drugs.”

A real “drug industry” has emerged from the heroin distribution experiments

Drug-addicted people were suddenly no longer treated as sick people but as clients who were to decide for themselves what and how many addictive substances they wanted to consume. It is true that the voters were promised during the vote on the heroin distribution trials that this state drug distribution would only be necessary temporarily after the closure of the open drug scenes as a survival aid for the addicts and that a time limit as well as a dose reduction until abstinence would be practised. Of course, the promoters of heroin distribution (Uchtenhagen, Hämmig, Gutzwiller, Seidenberg, etc.) also knew about failed drug distribution attempts from abroad such as Sweden and England. We have had to realise, that an actual state-financed “drug industry” has emerged from the experiments started in 1995.

It is not the crime of procuring –
the drug itself destroys people

I had to observe many fates in the nineties, some of which still haunt and occupy me today. I met a desperate mother. With her drug-addicted daughter she went from one counselling centre to another. But everywhere cannabis was described to her as a harmless drug.
  Later she told me: “For a long time I did not know how decisive the character changes triggered by cannabis would be for my daughter’s life. No one can detect these changes better than the parents! Most striking was the prevalence of an overwhelming passivity. Passive consumption (music, videos) became more important than being active oneself. Sport was given up. The circle of friends changed, the new ‘friends’ avoided contact with us parents. Strong mood swings set in. My daughter suffered from lack of concentration, forgetfulness and lack of motivation. Her performance at school declined, her apprenticeship was in jeopardy. Her clothing became careless, she dressed almost exclusively in black and grey. All this set the stage for her entry into heroin consumtion. My daughter was already addicted, the joint the most important event, the strongest feeling.
  Why is this brain-damaging drug trivialised? Who is calling for the release of hashish? Hundreds of parents have experienced hashish as their children’s gateway drug.
  Drug addicts often feel that they would be able to work if they had the drug readily available. My daughter had to lose this illusion – she was dismissed for unreliability, inability to grasp an assignment, tremors. Anyone who thinks the drug problem can be solved if the drug could be bought at the pharmacy has never lived with a drug addict. It is not simply the crime of procurement – the drug itself destroys the person.”

The unequally weighted four pillars

The four-pillar policy (prevention, therapy, harm reduction, repression), which has been valid throughout Switzerland since 1991, and the UN Drug Convention, ratified in 2005, have determined the same abstinence-oriented measures as their goal. It would therefore be the duty of politics to clearly define offers and distribute them among the four pillars. Outpatient counselling for drug addicts – more and more often young people who smoke pot and suffer from serious problems with the after-effects of the drug tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – has recently been “written off” as therapy. These low-threshold offers only get a few addicts out of drugs and devour millions of taxpayers’ money. Inpatient, abstinence-oriented therapy institutions – as a pillar of equal value – are criminally neglected. It has been shown time and again (e.g., in Sweden or in San Patrignano near Rimini/Italy) that an abstinence-oriented and thus sustainable addiction policy is most likely to help people out of addiction and therefore investments should be made primarily in such institutions.
  Up to the present day, there is no clear political statement on an abstinence-oriented therapy offer. The pressure “prison or abstinence-oriented therapy?” or strong motivation by the environment are very important for drug addicts. It cannot be that substitution offers or “regulated drug use” by the state deny addicted people a drug-free life. That these offers are financed by the health insurance is no proof of their suitability as therapy and therefore they should not be permitted. Likewise, methadone programmes, as they are carried out today, should not be counted as part of the “therapy pillar” but as “harm reduction”.

The neglected drug prevention

Who has seen a prevention campaign against cannabis or cocaine use? We are of the opinion that counsellors and treatment providers in the addiction field have to commit themselves to the abstinence and cessation goal.
  The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) should be mandated to promote successful measures by prevention campaigns and to put to rest the outdated liberalisation ideas of the 68s and 90s.
  This is for the good of our children and the entire population.  •

Sabina Geissbühler-Strupler, primary school and federally certified gymnastics and sports teacher, President of the Swiss Association “Parents against Drugs”, Halen 18, 3037 Herrenschwanden, +41 (0) 31 302 32 92.

What about the situation concerning drugs in Switzerland ourdays?

gl. Switzerland is still an important centre of drug abuse. The large open drug scenes have more or less disappeared. Instead, drug consumption takes place in private homes, clubs or elsewhere. State-financed drug distribution programmes have been established, while abstinence-oriented treatment facilities have been closed. In 1994, 14,000 drug addicts received substitution treatment (64 % of them methadone); since 1999, the number remained more or less stable at 17,000 to 18,000 people (https://zahlen-fakten.suchtschweiz.ch/docs/library/labhart_rq5zqh2rifkh.pdf). More than half of them are now 45-55 years old. This shows that the junkies from the “Platzspitz era” who never got off drugs are now getting their substance from the state. The majority of these people receive support from disability insurance or social welfare. There exist no studies about their health, psychological and family problems.
  Switzerland is also the sad frontrunner in Europe concerning cannabis and cocaine use among the young generation today. In 2017 (the latest figure available from the Federal Office for Public Health), 22 % of young men aged 15–24 have used cannabis within the last year (https://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/de/home/statistiken/gesundheit/determinanten/illegale-drogen.html).
  Among 15-year-old boys about 13.7 % have used cannabis within the last month. One has to take into account the significantly higher THC content today. There exist neither studies about the question how many young people have to quit their apprenticeship every year because of their drug problems nor how many end up in psychiatric clinics and constantly suffer from cannabis psychosis. Most likely, the figures are alarming. Cocaine consumption is also very high in Switzerland. In the comparative analysis of wastewater in 70 European cities, four Swiss cities – St. Gallen, Zurich, Basel and Geneva – were among the top ten in 2020.
  Real, effective drug prevention has not been taking place since the nineties. Drugs continue to be downplayed and the goal is propagated as “the right way to deal” with them. Is this how we want to educate the next generation to help address our problems today?

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