The Dutch treatment and social support system for drug users

Recent developments and the example of Amsterdam
Eberhard Schatz, Katrin Schiffer & John Peter Kools
IDPC Briefing Paper
January 2011

idpc-amsterdamThis paper, written in collaboration with the Correlation Network, briefly describes the history and the basic elements of the Dutch drug dependence treatment policy, including recent trends in drug use and the current drug treatment system implemented in the four largest cities in the Netherlands. Building on more than 30 years’ experience, the Dutch approach focuses on an integrated treatment system, which provides comprehensive support and services to the most vulnerable groups, including homeless people, problematic drug users and chronic psychiatric patients. At the same time, a strong emphasis is given to public order and crime reduction.

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The paper describes the law enforcement and community involvement elements of the strategy, and provides available data on the results achieved so far. Although the current policy has shown positive results for individuals and society as a whole, the system is at risk of losing its balanced approach. The approach of public health-based regulation may have reached its limits and is lose focus in over-medicalization and over-regulation.

The policy may have been under pressure from surrounding countries in the 1980s and 1990s, but nowadays, the biggest threat for turning back the clock is coming from inside the country. There is a growing concern among service providers and drug using communities that the new government will be redrafting the policy agenda away from the primary interest of drug policy: increasing the quality of life of people who use drugs.