December 11, 2013

Will Work for Beer

I am so totally not making this up.

Not to be outdone by the Swedes closing prisons left and right, the Dutch have discovered another frontier of substance abuse treatment.

Amsterdam has a problem with litter. It also has a problem with alcoholics. The solution? Smush 'em together like a penalogical Reese cup:
Fred Schiphorst finally landed a job last year and is determined to keep it. He gets up at 5:30 a.m., walks his dog and then puts on a red tie, ready to clean litter from the streets of eastern Amsterdam. 
* * *
His workday begins unfailingly at 9 a.m. — with two cans of beer, a down payment on a salary paid mostly in alcohol. He gets two more cans at lunch and then another can or, if all goes smoothly, two to round off a productive day.
But, as the Dutch equivalent of Ron Popeil might say, that's not all. Schiphorst and others similarly employed also get lunch, some tobacco, and 10 euros a day (about $14 according to today's exchange rate). It's an attractive offer, as the program has a lengthy waiting list.

Nor is it as crazy as it sounds:
The basic idea is to extend to alcoholics an approach first developed to help heroin addicts, who have for years been provided with free methadone, a less dangerous substitute, in a controlled environment that provides access to health workers and counselors.
'If you just say, ‘Stop drinking and we will help you,’ it doesn’t work,' said Mr. Wijnands, whose foundation gets 80 percent of its financing from the state and runs four drug consumption rooms with free needles for hardened addicts. 'But if you say, ‘I will give you work for a few cans of beer during the day,’ they like it.'
And it appears to be working, giving the folks involved an alternative to "just sitting in the park and drinking themselves to death." The guys doing the cleaning are positive about it, as are the local residents who had to deal with the aforementioned park drinkers. Prior police-oriented crackdowns did nothing other than move the alcoholics around and lead to fights with cops.

At bottom, this appears to be a good example of how to deal with substance abuse issues. It views these folks as human beings in need of assistance, not as rogues flaunting the law. This is a public health issue, not a criminal one.

Finally, credit where credit is due, the idea did not originate in the home of Amstel and Heineken. That honor goes to our friends up north, where the Molson and Moosehead roam.

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