Switzerland, one of the richest countries in the world, is the centre of an intense debate about how best to tackle drug addiction.

In the 1990s, in an attempt to deal with the drugs problem in Zurich, authorities ran a needle exchange programme in one of the city's parks.  Hard and soft drugs were also sold openly in that location, and the facility was closed after a public outcry.  

Since then, a new programme has been developed, which controversially provides heroin addicts with the drug, but in controlled circumstances.  The debate on this issue has been ongoing in Swiss society, and a public vote will soon decide if this policy will be outlawed.

One man who spoke to RTÉ News could not see how providing heroin to addicts could help them in any way, 

If we provide them with heroin we cannot achieve any goals, we destroy the motivation for them, they have no perspective to live without drugs.

On the other side, one woman comments to the prospect of the practice coming to an end, 

We would not be able to respond...sufficiently adequately to the people we have in the programme.

This very divisive debate won’t be settled definitively by the weekend vote however.  Campaigners who want the state to provide not just heroin, but other drugs in controlled circumstances as well, are pushing for a referendum on the question next year.  Under Swiss law, if they get 100,000 signatures on their petition, they’re entitled to put that issue to a vote.  

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 26 September 1997.  The reporter is Tommie Gorman.