What is the current situation?
Until now, addicts have been unable to claim disability benefits because they have been treated as if they were responsible for their own condition.
The only exceptions have been cases where addiction has led to an illness or an accident, or when addiction was the result of another illness.
So what has changed?
The Swiss Federal Court has now ruled that addiction should be treated like other mental illnesses. Medical experts will decide on a case-by-case basis whether people with an addiction are able to work, and if so, how much.
The ruling comes in a wake of a case involving a man who was addicted to benzodiazepines and opioids and saw his claim for disability insurance denied.
Why has there been a change of attitude?
In a statement (here in German), the Federal Court said the ruling was based on analysis of current medical knowledge about the nature of addiction. Judges said that, from a medical point of view, addiction was a form of illness.
Does that mean addicts will be able to claim benefits with no strings attached?
No. People receiving disability insurance because of addiction may be forced to undergo medical treatment. If they refuse, they could be stripped of their benefits.
In the current case, the addict is undergoing treatment. But the court noted it was impossible to say how long treatment would take and that the man was entitled to benefits until he could go back to work.
Is the court ruling a surprise?
The idea of personal responsibility is very important in Switzerland, so in that sense, the ruling is slightly surprising. But the authorities are generally very pragmatic, including on matters of drug use.
For example, in 1994, the country introduced controlled heroin prescription for chronic users in a bid to fight the black market and improve users’ health.
That move came after a park in central Zurich, the Platzspitz, became a European hub of heroin use with authorities turning a blind eye toward use of the drug in the area. Images of addicts shooting up in the park caused shock around the world, forcing Switzerland to react.