Steve Rolles, Anne Katrin Schlag, Fiona Measham, Lawrence Phillips, David Nutt, Daniel Bergsvik, Ole Rogeberg
February 25, 2021
Globally, non-medical heroin use is generating significant public health and social harms, and drug policy about heroin is a controversial field that encompasses many complex issues. Policy responses to illegal heroin markets have varied from militarized eradication of the opium poppy and harsh punishment of users, to more tolerant harm reduction approaches with decriminalized possession and use.
This paper reports the outcomes of a multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) on four generic regulatory regimes of heroin: prohibition, decriminalisation, state control and free market. Invited experts on drug harms, addiction, criminology and drug policy developed a comprehensive set of 27 policy outcome criteria against which these drug policy regimes were assessed.
State control of heroin was identified as the preferred policy option although other policy regimes scored better on specific outcome criteria. The free market model scored better than decriminalisation, with absolute prohibition scoring worst on every criterium. The ranking of the regimes was robust to variations in the criterion-specific weights.
The implications of these findings for the development of future policy responses to heroin and opioids generally are discussed in detail. Despite increasing overdose deaths and an opioid epidemic in North America, prohibition remains the predominant policy approach to heroin regulation at present. It is hoped that the current paper adds to the discussion of finding a valid regulatory alternative.