Giving away heroin may sound like a good plan for a start-up drug dealer.; get new customers hooked and them make money off their addiction. Drug dealers aren’t the only ones considering giving heroin away for free; so are some European governments.
Over the past two decades many have come to favour tackling heroin abuse through “harm reduction” policies, rather than tougher policing. Many governments have decriminalised personal use and provided free therapy programmes, using drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine that block heroin’s high. Two other proven ways to reduce harm, however, are more politically controversial: setting up safe sites where users can inject while monitored by health-care staff, and—for registered addicts who cannot or will not comply with treatment regimes—providing heroin itself free.
Switzerland and the Netherlands pioneered “Heroin Assisted Treatment” (HAT) approach and Britain, Canada, Germany and Spain have run trials of HAT.
Is this a good policy? This basically depends on two factors. The first factor is whether giving away heroin for free improves health and/or reduces costs among the current addicts. Giving away heroin can reduce heroin-related crime and also reduce medical cost from HIV infections through unclean needles. If these gains outweigh the gains, then the program could potentially be worthwhile.
A second factor to consider is how giving away heroin for free affects the likelihood non-addicts become addicts. Giving away heroin for free reduces the price of heroin and makes a heroin habit less costly. Further, it could de-stigmatize the use of heroin and increase the likelihood individuals sample the drug. Thus, giving away heroin for free could increase the number of addicts and actually be detrimental to society.
Although I doubt this policy will come to the U.S. the near future, recent developments–including the decriminalization of marijuana by Colorado and the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman–could shift the balance of public opinion.