03/04/2013 02:15 pm ET Updated Mar 04, 2013

Norway May Decriminalize Heroin Inhalation, Allow Smoking In Order To Cut Down Overdose Rate

Norway may change its tune on the legality of smoking heroin.

The Norwegian government announced Friday it would consider decriminalizing heroin inhalation, the Agence France-Presse reports. While smoking the substance would be allowed, other methods of use, such as injection, would still be considered illegal.

The move seeks to cut down on the number of overdoses in the county. The Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research reported in 2011 that heroin was the most common drug injected. Of 285 drug-related deaths reported in the country in 2009, 137 were linked to heroin use.

"The numbers of deaths from drug overdoses is too high, I would say it’s a shame for Norway," Health Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen, according to Views and News from Norway. "The means by which addicts take their drugs is important in preventing overdose. My opinion is that we should allow them to smoke heroin. Injecting it is worse and more dangerous.”

The plan follows recommendations made in the 2011 study of fatal overdoses in the Norwegian city of Oslo, conducted by the Norwegian Center for Addiction Research. Noted in an annual report on the drug situation in Norway, the study concluded the following:

The high prevalence of fatal overdoses in Oslo can be explained by the high number of persons who inject heroin in combination with other substances. Thus, a reduction in the number of fatal overdoses will be possible if the number of persons who inject is reduced. This can be achieved by facilitating smoking instead of injecting through the distribution of smoking equipment and allocated areas (‘user rooms’) where the substances can be smoked.

Heroin use among Norway's population has been an issue since the early 1980s, when the prevalence of intravenous heroin users began to increase steadily, according to a 2010 study on hard drug use. Among illegal drug users who reported heroin use, 90 percent said they injected the drug.

While the drug is currently illegal in many European countries, several European cities, including Oslo, fund clinics where users can safely inject the drug. According to the World Health Organization's annual report, heroin is the main opioid used in Europe.



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