• Sweden edition
 
Sweden's tough drug laws leave addicts behind

Sweden's tough drug laws leave addicts behind

Published: 10 Apr 2014 09:04 GMT+02:00
Updated: 10 Apr 2014 09:04 GMT+02:00

   
Cocaine, ecstasy and even cannabis are rarely seen in streets and clubs in line with Sweden's official "zero tolerance" approach. The ambitious target is clear.
   
"The overarching goal: a society free from illegal drugs," it states.
   
Sweden criminalized illicit drug use in 1988, thanks in large part to a two-decade campaign by a group called the Swedish National Association for a Drug-free Society (RNS). It followed a two-year attempt to introduce a more tolerant approach that was considered a failure by authorities.
   
"The most important link in the chain when it comes to the drug problem is the use of drugs, the demand that comes from the individual user," said RNS secretary general Per Johansson.
   
"If you don't focus on the demand you will never be effective combatting the supply of drugs."
   
Sweden also puts strong emphasis on prevention, with extensive drug awareness programmes in schools and even preschools. The country now has some
of the continent's lowest rates of drug consumption among students aged 15 and 16.
   
According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), only nine percent of the Swedish school population had tried cannabis, compared to 39 percent in France, 42 percent in the Czech Republic and around 25 percent in Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands.
 
'Something not Swedish' 
 
A survey by the Swedish Drug Users Union in 2008 showed that a majority of the population supports the strict policy. Every other Swede said that possession or cultivation of cannabis for personal use should be punished with prison, and six in 10 believed that a "total war" on cannabis  -- which the survey defined as arresting and jailing all dealers and users -- was the best tactic.
   
"Drugs have always been seen as something not Swedish, like something foreign," said Börje Olsson, a sociology professor at Stockholm University.
   
"They are not part of the Swedish morals. People think 'this has nothing to do with us'."
   
The latest EMCDDA data shows that the number of Swedish adults between 15 and 64 who had consumed cocaine during the last year was almost five times smaller than the biggest consumer, Spain.
   
For ecstasy, consumption figures in Britain and the Netherlands were 14 times higher than in Sweden.
   
Police play a key role in enforcement. Anyone even suspected of being "high" can be detained and given a compulsory urine test. If positive, they are slapped with a criminal charge and must stand trial.
   
Official state data shows that illicit drug consumption accounts for about half of all offences recorded in Sweden.
   
The mood contrasts sharply with more "open" drug scenes found in clubs in Spain and Germany, and catches some off guard. One ex-addict and member of Cocaine Anonymous Sweden, who asked not to be named, said he became "totally paranoid" upon return to Sweden.
   
"You kept thinking all the time, 'Who are the undercover police here?'" he said.
   
Though lauding the benefits of no tolerance, certain experts argue there is a downside.
   
"We put a lot of effort in preventing people from starting to use drugs but we have little focus on the people who have an abuse problem," said Björn Johnsson, a drug policy researcher at Malmö University.
   
He linked Sweden's reluctancy to introduce harm reduction programmes, focused on rehabilitation rather than criminalisation, with the growing drug-related deaths.
 
Soaring drug-related deaths
   
In 2011, Sweden had almost twice the European average of drug-related deaths, at 35.5 per million people, according to the EMCDDA. And the number has almost quadrupled since the 1990s, from 70 cases in 1995 to 272 in 2010.
   
In the same period, when most European countries implemented harm reduction measures -- like needle exchanges to prevent the spread of HIV -- drug-related deaths decreased in Spain (698 to 393), Germany (1565 to 1237) and Italy (1195 to 374).
   
Ted Goldberg, a retired social work professor at Stockholm University, also sees criminalization of consumption as a factor in overdose deaths.
   
"If you're shooting up with somebody and they have an overdose, a normal person would call the authorities immediately," he said.
   
But in Sweden, "if they call medical authorities, drug addicts are afraid that the police will come and they don't want that."
   
Drug user support groups, meanwhile, complain that requirements for methadone treatment programmes are too strict while needle exchange programmes have been slow in coming.
   
The southern cities of Lund and Malmö were the first, acting on their own, to start needle exchanges in the 1980s, but it was not until 2006 that parliament passed a law allowing all regions to do the same.
   
Even today, only three of Sweden's 21 counties have joined the programme, including the influential Stockholm region -- home of the capital and the government -- which only started in April last year.
   
Though a fierce advocate of the no tolerance policy, even RNS chief Johansson readily concedes that Sweden has sidelined its hard core addicts.
   
"We don't take care of the old users, the heavy users, people who are deep in the problem," he told AFP. "We don't take care of them properly."

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
National
Man frames beggar with stolen tablet computer
Photo: TT

Man frames beggar with stolen tablet computer

A man in southern Sweden has landed in hot water after he stole a tablet computer, gave it to a beggar, then reported her to the police. READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Sweden ready to use force to surface sub
The Swedish Armed Forces have sent out 200 troops. Photo: TT

Sweden ready to use force to surface sub

UPDATED: Sweden's military has announced that if it finds a suspect foreign vessel in the Stockholm archipelago, it is prepared to force it to the surface "with weapons if necessary". READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Sub hunt: 'There is something out there'
Former navy officer Bosse Linden in Vaxholm. Photo: Maddy Savage

Sub hunt: 'There is something out there'

Stockholm's archipelago is the focus of the biggest military operation in Sweden since the Cold War. The Local is in the region's capital, Vaxholm, to see what residents make of the drama. READ  

Presented by CurrencyFair
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
CurrencyFair co-founder Brett Meyers

CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers

Tired of losing money when you send cash back home? Join other expats in Sweden who avoid bank fees and hidden charges by sending money internationally with CurrencyFair, an online marketplace where secure transactions are faster and cheaper. READ  

European Union
Extremist saves Sweden Democrats' EU group
Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson. Photo: TT

Extremist saves Sweden Democrats' EU group

The EU group that bound several Eurosceptic parties including the Sweden Democrats has been saved by an MEP from a far-right Polish group, just a week after it appeared to have crumbled, according to a UK press report. READ  

Stockholm 'submarine' hunt
Timeline: Mystery 'submarine' in Stockholm
Sweden's Armed Forces are out in force after reports of a foreign vessel in the Stockholm archipelago. Photo: TT

Timeline: Mystery 'submarine' in Stockholm

The world has had its periscope on Sweden since the Swedish military launched an extensive hunt for what is rumoured to be a damaged Russian submarine in the Stockholm archipelago. Here is the timeline of events so far. READ  

Business & Money
Profit leap for Swedbank
A branch of Swedbank in Malmö. Photo. TT

Profit leap for Swedbank

Swedbank has seen its profits rise higher than expected. READ  

New coalition
Sick pay U-turn from Sweden's new coalition
Stefan Löfven has changed his strategy on sick pay. Photo: TT

Sick pay U-turn from Sweden's new coalition

Small businesses won't face rising sick pay costs, following a policy reversal from Sweden's new coalition government. READ  

Stockholm 'submarine' hunt
Vessel hunt continues at 'full strength'
Minehunter HMS Koster takes part in the search in the Stockholm archipelago on Sunday. Photo: Marko Säävälä/TT

Vessel hunt continues at 'full strength'

The search for a suspected foreign vessel in the Stockholm archipelago continues with "full strength" on Tuesday morning, according to Sweden's armed forces. READ  

Ebola crisis
Sweden hit by two Ebola false alarms in two days
The Uppsala University Hospital. Photo: TT

Sweden hit by two Ebola false alarms in two days

UPDATED: A patient has been cleared of any Ebola suspicions at the Uppsala University Hospital. It marks the second suspected case in Sweden in two days. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
National
Sweden deploys troops over underwater threat
Gallery
People-watching: October 19th
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Blog updates

19 October

Getting it (Blogweiser) »

"Follow Joel Sherwood on FB Few watch baseball in Sweden. This is excellent when your team loses..." READ »

 

17 October

Editor’s Blog, Oct 17th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Here’s the whole week of news in just 60 seconds. The most-read story was about a..." READ »

 
 
 
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
National
A Touch of Scandinavia: Reindeer in the kitchen
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden: October 17th - 24th
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Lifestyle
Sweden's The Bridge to become 'more Danish'
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
What's on in Sweden: October 10th - 17th
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Gallery
People-watching: October 8th
National
Five facts to know about Patrick Modiano
Society
My Swedish Career: A French fashionista in Sweden
Society
Swede's anti-bully Facebook tale goes viral
Society
Have you seen Sweden's viral subway cancer campaign?
National
Isis: Swedes linked to Turkish prisoner swap
National
Should Swedes be banned from buying sex abroad?
Gallery
Fredrik Reinfeldt's leaving presents
National
Five Swedish TV shows you shouldn't miss
Gallery
A tool belt, a casserole, and a book. Fredrik Reinfeldt's parliament gifts
TT
Lifestyle
Top five winter festivals in Sweden
TT
National
Sami reindeer herders win mine reprieve
Gallery
Property of the Week: Gamla Enskede
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Politics
Ten new minister faces you should know
Tech
First womb transplant baby in world born in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 5th
National
What's on in Sweden
National
Sweden rethinks Afghan translators' protection
Society
Interview with Geena Davis: 'I want to be in a Swedish movie'
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

1,005
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN