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Dutch Pastor Forces Government to Provide Heroin to Addicts; Had Offered to Sell Discount Heroin at Church


September-October 1997

Rev. Hans Visser, a Dutch Protestant minister at the Pauluskerk (St. Paul's Church) in Rotterdam created a furor when he said he would supply cut-price heroin to a test group of ten addicts assessed to have no possibility of kicking their habit (Reuters, "Dutch church to market heroin," Washington Times, September 2, 1997, p. A2; Reuters, "Dutch church says will start selling heroin," August 20, 1997; Reuters, Wendy Braanker, "Dutch cleric turned drug dealer raises eyebrows," September 14, 1997).

Visser, 54, said he would work with doctors and social workers to implement the program. To qualify for the drugs, participants must have a long history of addiction, be in poor health and have severe social problems. The program would have strict criteria regarding the drug quality and would restrict drug use by imposing a timetable.

Visser's plan was offered after a proposed Dutch government program had been shelved that would have offered maintenance doses of heroin to a test group.

Visser sees his church as a broker without a profit motive; he has found three dealers who will deliver heroin at cost price. "It's the best [heroin] for sale, abroad as well," said Visser. Visser says he believes that users of dangerous drugs should not be forced into the criminal underground, but drugs should be made available under strict conditions. Visser admits his aim is to decriminalize the hard drugs scene. "That is better than chaos," he said. "We will not try to provoke the public prosecutor."

Before Visser announced his plan, Dutch Health Minister Els Borst-Eilers had said she favors giving free prescription heroin to about 750 addicts on a trial basis. "If the number of test subjects is too limited, we may not be able to detect the beneficial effects of the test," she said ("In favor of free heroin," Houston Chronicle, August 17, 1997, p. 34A).

On September 3, the Dutch government reversed its position and said it will begin a small-scale heroin maintenance program next year that will include between 50 and 100 addicts. Borst-Eilers said the larger trial would go ahead if the initial program does not lead to any "unwanted side-effects" ("State test: Free Heroin for addicts," Chicago Tribune, September 4, 1997, sec. 1, p. 8).