Amsterdam Alcoholics Get Beer in Exchange for Cleaning Parks

The tactic is reminiscent of a 2009 British trial that gave heroin injections to longtime heroin addicts.

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AFP / Getty Images

Chronic alcoholics clean a street on September 9, 2013 in Amsterdam.

Alcoholics who help clean Amsterdam’s streets and parks are being given beer as a reward for their efforts, AFP reports. They are given two cans of beer with breakfast, two cans at lunch, and one around 3:30 p.m., in addition to 10 euros (about $13) and a half-packet of tobacco.

“The aim is to keep them occupied, to get them doing something so they no longer cause trouble at the park,” Gerrie Holterman, head of the Rainbow Foundation, which reportedly funds this exchange via donations and Dutch state subsidies, told AFP. Organizers hope this incentive will reduce the number of incidents in the city’s Oosterpark. Alcoholics told the news agency that the project gives their lives “structure,” and some said they are even too tired to drink now. Another said the beer is just “light” beer, which makes it less tempting.

The AFP article calls this project an example of “Dutch pragmatism.” Foreign Policy points to a 2001 BBC article that said this philosophy argues social ills “will happen anyway, whether they prohibit it or not” or “tolerate it, rather than prohibit it and subsequently lose control.”

But the idea of giving alcohol to alcoholics in a controlled setting is also reminiscent of a 2009 British trial — partially funded by the government and modeled after similar clinics in Switzerland — which gave daily heroin injections to longtime heroin addicts and found that drug use and street crime rates decreased. As John Strang, a researcher with London’s  National Addiction Centre and King’s Health Partners at the time, told TIME: “It’s a less than perfect treatment, but for entrenched addicts, it gives them the first steps toward getting their life together…Some make a virtually complete recovery, but others, we get them from a bad place to a less bad place.”

Foreign Policy also raises a key question about the Amsterdam project’s reported state-funding: “If cities are free from the burden of correcting social ills because they are inevitable, are they also free from the guilt of potentially worsening it?”

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