The Controversial Case Of Legalizing Heroin



What you need to know

Should heroin-assisted treatment be legalized in order to address heroin and opioid addiction?

Yes, we should implement HAT programs

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Using street drugs in excess leads to a higher spread of infectious diseases, a higher chance of overdosing, and is overall very dangerous to addicts. Most are unaware of what they are ingesting as street drugs are usually laced with rat poison and fentanyl. Regulating drugs will decrease the risk of these factors and allow addicts to use their drugs under the watch of medical professionals. The principle of non-maleficence is a key ethical consideration in cases as it requires that no act of commission or omission harms a patient. If we all were stand back to let addicts use street drugs, we are harming them by omission. HAT programs and safe injection zones allow medical professions to step in if there are accidental overdoses and reduce the spread of diseases by giving sanitary needles.

One common misconception about addiction is that the drug itself is the main cause of it.  There was a famous study where rats were put into cages and given two types of water: normal water and water laced with cocaine and heroin. The rats would drink the laced water until they died. Bruce Alexander, a psychology professor from Vancouver, noticed that the rats had nothing to do in the cage besides drink water. He recreated this experiment but modified it by adding a park in the cage, which has been described as “heaven” for rats. It has cheese, other rats, toys, and tunnels to give them a happy life. He found that none of the rats overdosed or used the drug water in excess. In reality, the “real” cause of addiction are external factors such as socioeconomic status, unemployment, or history of addiction in their family. The bioethical principle of beneficence, the idea that medical professionals must treat and benefit their patients, aligns with heroin-assisted treatment. If we give addicts a safe, comfortable, and clean environment, it could lead to fewer people using drugs in excess and improve life quality.

One of the most important considerations of a bioethics case is the principle of autonomy; a person’s ability to make a logical and rational decision. Nobody wants to be addicted to a drug or to feel that it “owns a piece of your soul.” Addicts desperately want to use HAT programs to overcome their addictions or at least feel safe in case they overdosed. There is a clinic in Vancouver that offers heroin to addicts and it has consistently been operating at full capacity. The clinicians have had to turn addicts that beg to join it. If addicts are asking for these programs to help them recover, we should provide them. 

If you would like to see what a HAT clinic looks like, please watch this news segment about the Vancouver HAT clinic (2:00-2:27). Do not watch this if you are uncomfortable with needles.

No, we shouldn’t implement HAT programs

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Many people believe that HAT programs are providing non-users with drugs or giving free drugs away to addicts. Using the logic from the theory of beneficence, why would doctors willingly supply people with a highly dangerous and addictive drug? Heroin is legally classified as a Schedule I drug, it has no medical purposes, in the United States. In addition, doctors don’t believe that they should prescribe a new drug to get over heroin and opioid addiction as the patient is taking in more drugs and relying on a new one at the end of the day. Supplying drugs defeats their purpose as “the goal is to get [heroin] away from addicts.”

Should the government spend taxpayer dollars to build clinics designated to supply people with heroin? Is it the best use of space? Currently, there is a scarcity of space in hospitals and money in hospitals due to the impact of COVID-19. The principle of justice is about whether the allocation of resources is fair. According to the Vancouver clinic, it costs about $21,600 USD to supply heroin for one addict for one year. It could be argued that the money for the clinic should go to pandemic relief. 

Dr. Carl L. Hart, a professor at Columbia is known for advocating for leisurely drug use and the decriminalization of all drugs. He argues that the majority of people use drugs for fun and aren’t addicted but society vilifies them. Addiction is caused by a mixture of socio-economic factors than the drug itself. If the US were to decriminalize and distribute drugs, where would the line be drawn? If HAT programs are only available to addicts, an important requirement for similar programs in Europe and Canada, people that are at-risk will still turn to street drugs. It would be too complicated to come up with a program that the law, government, and medical field all agree on. 

Solutions and Responses

Heroin and opioid addiction is one of the most heartbreaking and isolating problems in our society. We have pushed addicts away by not having adequate resources to help them overcome their addiction. The solutions and mindset that is currently set have not properly addressed this issue as the number of overdose deaths have steadily increased and gotten worse from the COVID-19 pandemic. We must all remember that addiction is an isolating issue that can take over someone’s life; we must have more compassion towards addicts. I urge all of you to view addiction as an issue that we must all solve together as a group rather than an individual battle.

Three of the key takeaways are that if we don’t act now, more people will be harmed; addicts want this treatment; and, HAT would actually treat and help addicts overcome drug addiction. The only solution to this issue is for the United States government to implement HAT programs and places for people to ingest drugs under supervision (in case of an overdose). However this requires the U.S. government to decriminalize and legalize all drugs. This process is more complicated by having policy makers and medical professionals agree on the requirements to qualify for the program. Some requirements that I believe are important are:

  • Only available to existing addicts that have shown signs of wanting to recover or have attempted other rehabilitation programs.
  • Must be available to people regardless of race, economic status, gender, sexuality. This includes being available in areas of high rates of addiction and overdoses (for example, it is near a known drug site).
  • Must provide addicts with oral methadone in order to curb cravings

Let me know what you think!

In the comments section, please let me know:

  • What is your perception of addiction and how has it changed?
  • Do you believe heroin-assisted treatments should be implemented? What are your requirements?

Works Cited



  1. Hi Zyra! I love how informative your page is as well as the beautiful layout. I haven’t heard much about legalizing heroin and never knew that these many people were affected by Heroin addiction or overdose. I also like how you defined and explained the principles of bioethics as I am unfamiliar with them. To answer your questions:

    1. What is your perception of addiction and how has it changed?
    Prior to reading your project I always knew the importance of understanding the dangers of addiction however after reading it I have definitely gained a better understanding of its impact.

    2. Do you believe heroin-assisted treatments should be implemented? What are your requirements?
    Yes, I do believe that heroin-assisted treatments should be implemented because looking at what Switzerland has done seemed to be very beneficial. You mentioned how after the implementation of HAT in Switzerland the rate of fatal overdoses decreased by 64%. I am sure that if other countries were to implement this and give their citizens the proper care needed their rates could decrease as well.

    1. Thank you for your comment! Addiction is definitely a misunderstood issue because society tends to villanize addicts. I also agree that we should implement HAT programs because they worked well in Europe.

  2. Hi Zyra! Your information is great. I’m glad you brought up both sides and allowed people to think about what they thought would work best before putting in your thoughts. I agree that heroin addiction and opioid addiction are ones that the US needs to come face to face with as it is becoming outrageous at the rates the people are overdosing. To answer your questions:
    1. Addiction is extremely deadly and is an illness that need to be treated head on, it cannot go unaccounted for.
    2. I think heroin-assisted treatments should be implemented for the extreme cases, those that would die during with-drawl, but if they do not need it I do not think they should get it during their period of with-drawl.

    1. Hey Alizae! Thanks for your comment. I definitely agree with your answers. HAT should be only for addicts and not available to anyone, in my opinion.

  3. Hi Zyra! Your project is super powerful. I’ve been in camp “rehabilitate addicts” for a bit now, but I’ll admit, it is still jarring to hear the phrase “legalize heroin” out-of-context. And too many anti-legalization people only use the phrase out-of-context. I haven’t done enough research to know if I’d have different requirements to be treated, but I like yours. @GOAlearning #GOAndchangeit

    1. Hi! Yes, many people think that decriminalizing and legalizing heroin means it is available for everyone in pharmacies when that isn’t the case. The main obstacle is policymakers writing the legislation to enact HAT programs in the US. But, we can all contribute to the solution by being more open-minded and sympathetic to addiction. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Hey Zyra!
    I loved your project! You did a great job of including the bioethical principles and shared a very thorough analysis. Great job! To answer your question on perception of addiction, I think a lot about how we isolate and vilify addicts when really, they are sick. Addiction is a disease and society is not providing addicts with the treatment they need to survive. Congratulations, Zyra!

    1. Hi Gabi, we definitely need to be more supportive. One quote I heard from a TED Talk was that we need to focus on “social recovery” rather than “individual recovery” for addicts because rehabilitation into society is one of the hardest parts of recovery. Thank you for your comment!

  5. This is a really cool project! I had never heard of this project. Before I looked at this project, if someone had mentioned something like this to me, I would have said definitely not. However, after looking at your project I might be tempted to say yes, this is a good idea.
    Another requirement that I might add would be that people who take part in HAT must have tried to go through a program to get clean or after taking part in HAT for a while they have to go through a program to get clean like the 12 step program.

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