Swiss Drug Policy To Be Topic of Public Health Grand Rounds

Dr. Thomas Zeltner, director general of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, will explain his country’s fourfold approach to reducing the problems associated with drug addiction on Tuesday, Dec. 15, at Public Health Grand Rounds. The talk is free and open to the public.

Sponsored by the Division of International Health at the Yale School of Medicine, Zeltner’s talk will be from noon to 1 p.m. in Winslow Auditorium, first floor of Epidemiology and Public Health, 60 College St. Zeltner will outline the Swiss drug policy and the resulting political debates in both the national and international arenas.

During the last 10 years, Switzerland has been at the forefront of drug policy and research in Europe. Zeltner took office in 1991, the year the new Swiss Drug Policy was introduced, which comprises four elements – law enforcement, prevention, harm reduction and therapy.

With its fourfold approach, Switzerland has made remarkable progress in reducing the problems associated with drug consumption. For example, there has been a noticeable reduction in AIDS and hepatitis infections, and mortality from overdoses dropped from 419 deaths in 1992 to 241 deaths in 1997. In addition, open drug dealing has been eliminated, and the crime rate connected with obtaining drugs has been substantially reduced.

Since 1994, the Swiss federal government has also supported scientific studies of medically prescribed narcotics for severely addicted individuals. Eight hundred patients are receiving heroin by prescription. Results from the study show significant health improvements in this population, reduction of illegal and semi-legal activities, and improved housing and employment.

In 1993 and 1994, two unsuccessful initiatives were presented in Switzerland with opposing objectives – one to establish a strict abstinence-oriented drug policy and the other, “Youth Without Drugs,” calling for a decriminalization of drug use. Both were rejected by more than 70 percent of voters. The more moderate approach of the Federal Office of Public Health has therefore been confirmed twice by a majority of voters.

Switzerland is very active in the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs and also works closely with the World Health Organization, UNESCO and the Pompidon Group of the Council of Europe on initiatives against drug abuse.

Before joining the Office of Public Health, Zeltner was professor of medicine at the University of Berne and director of the medical services of the University Hospital in Berne. From 1986 to 1992, he was a visiting research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health. He has been very active in WHO and was recently elected chairman of the governing council of the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France.

Zeltner’s visit to Yale marks the launch of an increased effort by Epidemiology and Public Health to bring senior public health practitioners from around the world to share their experiences with Yale students, faculty and the wider community.

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