• 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
Politics
Sweden slammed for racism report omissions

Sweden slammed for racism report omissions

The Swedish government has been criticized by a slew of organisations for omitting a series of notorious cases of discrimination and a general lack of self-criticism in its report to the UN Human Rights Council. READ  

Sport
Sweden's star striker Zlatan 'recovering well'
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is Sweden's top scorer in history. PHOTO: TT/Maja Suslin

Sweden's star striker Zlatan 'recovering well'

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is recovering well from the nagging heel problem that has stopped him playing for Sweden during its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. READ  

International
Swedish sisters create viral Syria stir
A shot from the video on YouTube.

Swedish sisters create viral Syria stir

Two sisters from Södertälje near Stockholm are celebrating getting more than 1.3 million hits on YouTube, with a video calling for peace in war-torn Syria. READ  

Pirate Bay
Pirate Bay founder gets three years in prison
A 2013 image of Svartholm Warg. Photo: TT

Pirate Bay founder gets three years in prison

Swedish "hactivist" Gottfrid Svartholm Warg has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for hacking crimes. READ  

Royal family
Princess Madeleine to make Nobel comeback
Princess Madeleine at a previous Nobel banquet. Photo: TT

Princess Madeleine to make Nobel comeback

Sweden's Princess Madeleine is scheduled to appear at the Nobel Festival in Stockholm in December, after taking time out from her royal duties to focus on looking after her daughter. READ  

Politics
'We knew that Israel would be critical'
Foreign Minister Margot Wallström (left), with Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: TT

'We knew that Israel would be critical'

Sweden's Foreign Minister has told The Local she respects Israel's decision to recall its ambassador after Sweden officially recognized the State of Palestine, and laughed off comments about IKEA furniture made by her Israeli counterpart. READ  

Analysis
'Store up your sunlight hours before winter'
Doctors say we should make the most of the autumn sunshine. Photo: Shutterstock

'Store up your sunlight hours before winter'

Spending time outdoors this autumn will help you survive a cold, dark Swedish winter. Baba Pendse, Head of Psychiatry at Lund University shares his top tips for battling the seasonal blues with The Local. READ  

Sports
Plot for shared Scandi Winter Olympic bid
Skiers hit the slopes in Åre, western Sweden. Photo: TT

Plot for shared Scandi Winter Olympic bid

Norwegian sports officials have said they want to co-host the winter Olympics with Sweden in 2026. But there has so far been no official response from Sweden. READ  

National
Anti-Israel graffiti 'not a race crime': Court
Photo: TT

Anti-Israel graffiti 'not a race crime': Court

A teenage boy who painted anti-Israel slogans and symbols on the Concert Hall in Gothenburg has been convicted for the damages he caused, but he walked free from racial agitation charges. READ  

Entertainment
A closer look at Sweden's rising stars
Swedish actresses Sandra Huldt and Julia Ragnarsson. Julia (right) has been nominated for a Rising Star award. Photo: TT

A closer look at Sweden's rising stars

Like to be ahead of the game when it comes to the next big thing on the silver screen? We find out more about the Swedish nominees for the Rising Star award to be presented at Stockholm's International Film Festival next week. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
Stockholm's shocking take on Halloween
Sport
Top ten quotes from Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
People-watching: October 30th
National
Sweden remains fourth best for gender equality
Blog updates

31 October

Editor’s Blog, October 31st (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, Welcome to our latest 60-second round-up of the week’s news. First, Sweden made headlines around the..." READ »

 

29 October

Scariest day (Blogweiser) »

"This is what’s frightening me on Halloween. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4OFZVCu8J0&list=UUJu5J7jG4uoYSjWbpFsJBuQ Follow my posts on FB. ..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Timeline: Julian Assange sex allegations
Sport
World Cup ski race on 'fake' Stockholm slope
Society
An Arctic tradition: hunting and handicraft
Society
Stockholm taxis offer free therapy sessions
National
The Local meets Health Minister Gabriel Wikström
Gallery
Property of the week: Österåker
Society
Homeless turtles get Stockholm police ride
National
Construction worker has 'Sweden's best beard'
National
Italian musician jazzes up Sweden's Lapland
Gallery
Zlatan's career in pictures
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching: October 25th and 26th
Lifestyle
'Swedes are funnier than they think'
National
Swedish town 'like Venice' after heavy rains
Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: October 24th - 31st
Gallery
People-watching: October 22nd
Gallery
In Pictures: Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist
Lifestyle
Eight things to love about renting a Swedish apartment
National
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
National
Sub hunt: Day-by-day
National
Sub hunt: Stockholm islanders share their fears with The Local
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
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?
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
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
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

935
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