Norway will begin testing a free heroin program in order to help some of its drug-addicted citizens, its health minister said on Friday.
The Scandinavian country has one of the highest drug mortality rate in Europe, with about 81 deaths per million in 2015, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. The country is behind its neighbors Estonia, which has a drug overdose rate of 132 deaths per million, and Sweden with has about 22 deaths per million people.
In the U.S., 115 people die every day from opioid overdoses including drugs like heroin, pain relievers and fentanyl, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“We hope that this will provide a solution that will give… a better quality of life to some addicts who are today out of our reach and whom current programmes do not help enough,” Health Minister Bente Hoie wrote on Facebook, according to the AFP.
The Norwegian government announced on Friday that they would begin the program in the near future.
Giving drug addicts free access to more drugs may sound strange, but medical heroin therapy has already been put into place in countries like Switzerland, the Netherlands and Denmark. While controversial, people who have seen these programs in action say that it can lower overdose mortality because the government will be overseeing how much of the narcotic is distributed.
Medical heroin therapy can also improve quality of life for addicts. In nations where it has been tested, it can also reduce the amount of crime associated with the drug and help the government keep down the costs of illegal drug use.
LEAP UK, an organization that brings a range of figures from the criminal justice system together with civilians to raise awareness to failed and punitive drug policy, congratulated the Scandinavian country on Twitter, saying that the program is a step in the right direction.
Norway steps up! Well done. They’re set to prescribe heroin to those who need it. As we know, this used to be the British system, it helps save lives, severs links to organised crime, and generally helps with individual and societal safety. This is… https://t.co/TpKj9wt3kp
Norway is reportedly beginning the first treatments under the new project by 2020, the nation’s health ministry said in a statement. The first wave of therapy will benefit up to 400 drug addicts, according to the daily Aftenposten – Norway’s largest newspaper.