After years of contention, Denmark on Monday opened its first clinic equipped to distribute free heroin under medical supervision to people heavily addicted to the drug.
The Scandinavian country joins a number of countries like Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany to allow prescriptions for medicinal heroin, or diamorphine, to be written out to a small group of addicts so hooked on the substance that more traditional substitutes like methadone have no effect.
The clinic is set to serve only 120 of some 300 hard-core heroin addicts, or only about one percent of all drug addicts in the country.
"Our objective is not to cure heroin addicts, but to help those who are not satisfied by methadone by providing them with clean heroin, allowing them to avoid disease and the temptation of criminal acts to obtain the drug," a doctor and head of the clinic Inger Nielsen told AFP.
Only addicts who have been referred from a methadone centre for treatment and who voluntarily request to enter the clinic will be permitted to participate in the programme, Nielsen said.
They will be treated with methadone for the first 14 days "so we can determine how much heroin to prescribe," she added.
The Danish parliament passed a law legalising the distribution of medicinal heroin in 2008, but the opening of the clinic was delayed until the city of Copenhagen agreed to house the programme.
The User Association, a group representing drug addicts, remains critical, blasting that patients are required to go to the clinic twice a day, seven days a week, to receive their doses.
"This means living like a zombie, without being able to hold down a job or study or have hobbies," head of the association Joergen Kjaer told reporters.