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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Drug Addiction, Crime or Disease?

Drug Addiction, Crime or Disease?

Interim and Final Reports of the Joint Committee of the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association on Narcotic Drugs.


An Appraisal of International, British and Selected European Narcotic Drug Laws, Regulations and Policies


Narcotic addiction (aggravated by war-accumulated stocks of morphine) was recognized as a problem in the waterfront area of Copenhagen in the nineteen forties, but it is now believed to be largely confined to sailors off foreign ships. There have never been extensive smuggling operations, nor evidence of organized black market activities.

Danish officials have found no apparent relation between addiction and criminality.

It is believed that there have been approximately a score of cases of addiction among Danish medical practitioners in the last decade. Addicts in prison populations are an insignificant proportion, less than one percent. Copenhagen has also been plagued with a mild outbreak of hemp (marihuana) smoking, centered along the waterfront and related to the recent upswing in juvenile delinquency in the same "tough" areas.

The Danish law regulates the importation, manufacture and distribution of drugs by a licensing and required records system. Neither addiction nor possession is an offense per se, and most violations involve the forgery of prescriptions, punished by fines or very light prison sentences. Addicted persons may be hospitalized for voluntary detoxification, but they do not come into custody except by the commission of some ordinary criminal offense.

Following a governmental study in 1953-4, reportedly provoked by complaints about the loose practices of a few doctors in Copenhagen, the Danish statutes were revised29 to give the Board of Public Health broad authority over the practices of physicians in the prescribing of euphoriants (including prescription for themselves). Prescription records are scrutinized by the Medical Officer of Health, and if a doctor violates the Medical Officer's rulings, or abuses his rights to prescribe, the latter right may be suspended, after notice and hearing, by the Board of Public Health for a period of one to five years. Provision may be made for the issuance of prescriptions, on behalf of a suspended doctor to meet the needs of his practice, by a regional medical officer or by a colleague designated for the purpose. A doctor who violates a suspension order may be subjected to prosecution, fine and imprisonment. (The maximum penalty for any offense is two years' imprisonment.) By the same enactments the Minister of Home Affairs and Housing was given broad authority to curb the importation and use of any drugs found by the Board of Health to be "highly dangerous by reason of their narcotic properties," and to make regulations to confine the use of such drugs to use for medical and scientific purposes only.

Under this authority the prescribing of drugs for addicts has been centralized in the control of a special committee of doctors in Copenhagen, which passes upon each case of allegedly incurable addiction and prescribes or authorizes the prescription of proper stabilizing doses of drugs.

Officials with many years' experience disclaim any recollection that drug addiction has ever been a major problem in Denmark. The new law and regulations are recognized as a restrictive trend, but their aim is to tighten control over the practices of doctors, in professed emulation of the British system, rather than outright prohibition.

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