De-Criminalizing Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction continues to receive media attention following the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. His tragic overdose introduced America to the fact that heroin addicts do not fit any certain stereotype, and that people can struggle with addiction throughout their lives, even after periods of sobriety. We have covered the science of heroin here on Big Think, but what about the societal impact of heroin addiction and what to do about it?


In the below video, National Geographic takes us to Switzerland, one of the more conservative countries in Europe. Major cities there were plagued with parks full of heroin addicts, which became regular sites of over-doses. Addicts were driven to commit crimes, including prostitution and robbery. The public outcry forced the government to act.

So the Swiss launched a program where heroin addiction is treated like a sickness and not criminalized. Addicts are given free heroin prescribed by doctors, and the program is paid for by tax-payers. A doctor involved in the initiative argues that it allows doctors to focus on core issues behind addiction, like mental illness. Crime has also dropped dramatically.

Watch the video and tell us in the comments what you think about this big idea?         Image credit: Todd Huffman/Flickr

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Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
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Wikimedia Commons
Culture & Religion
  • The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
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Abid Katib/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
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An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.

Shogo Hamada/Cornell University
Surprising Science
  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
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