• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Sweden's tough drug laws leave addicts behind

Sweden's tough drug laws leave addicts behind

AFP · 10 Apr 2014, 09:04

Published: 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).
Story continues below…
   
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
PLO seeks apology over Sweden Eurovision flag ban
Sweden was the first EU member state in Western Europe to officially recognise the State of Palestine. Photo: TT

First it was the Basques...

Sweden's king celebrates 70th birthday
King Carl XVI Gustaf joins in with a rendition of All You Need Is Love with the Tensta Gospel Choir and their leader Cedwin Sandanam. Photo: TT

But Norwegian royals stay at home after deadly helicopter crash.

Brussels attacks
Swedish terror suspect 'dumped bomb in toilet'
Osama Krayem. Photo: Facebook

Belgian media report that Osama Krayem tried to dispose of the explosives before carrying them onto the Brussels metro system.

Eurovision 2016
Regional politicians hit out at Sweden's Eurovision flag ban
Lots of flag-waving at Eurovision. Photo: AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson

Spanish politicians have criticized Swedish Eurovision organizers after a regional flag was banned alongside that of Isis from the competition in Stockholm.

Eight charged over shooting at Gothenburg restaurant
People leaving flowers at the scene of the fatal shooting last year. Photo: TT

The attack last spring left two people dead in one of the most high-profile shootings in Sweden in recent years.

Swedes want answers from Russia after Nato warning
Russian T-14 Armata tanks make their way to Red Square during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in May. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

UPDATED: What exactly does Russia's foreign minister mean when he says his country will "take action" if Sweden joins Nato?

Two historic shipwrecks found right in central Stockholm
Divers looking for a ship in central Stockholm. Photo: Anders P Näsberg/Statens maritima museer

Another two shipwrecks dating back to at least the 1600s have been found in central Stockholm.

Alicia Vikander scoops lead role in new Tomb Raider
Alicia Vikander poses at the Scandinavian terrace during the 68th Cannes film festival last May. Photo: Jean Christophe Magnenet/AFP

The next Lara Croft will be a Swede.

Brussels terror suspect wants jail time in Sweden
Osama Krayem. Photo: Facebook

Osama Krayem wants to come home if found guilty.

The Local Recipes
How to make Sweden's famous veal burgers
Photo: John Duxbury

These mouth-watering burgers, or Wallenbergare, are a classic at Swedish restaurants. Food writer John Duxbury shares his recipe with The Local.

Sponsored Article
Kista: The best office space in Sweden?
Analysis & Opinion
Why Sweden's fretting about Brexit
Sponsored Article
Why international researchers love to call Malmö home
National
INTERVIEW: Swedish police officer 'beat me up and used racial slurs'
Gallery
People-watching: April 27th
Blog updates

29 April

Editor’s blog, April 29th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, Relations between Sweden and Russia went from slightly strained to full-on James Bond this…" READ »

 

18 April

A day as a guard (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"Life as an Ambassador. Driven around in the Jaguar. Visits all planned so you go straight…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
‘Life in Stockholm’s suburbs is better than people realize’
National
Öresund bridge border checks net record number of drink drivers
Sponsored Article
'A huge waste of resources': how to fix integration
National
Swedes bid farewell to iconic Volvo
Gallery
Property of the week: Enköping
Gallery
People-watching: April 22nd-24th
Sponsored Article
'A sustainable Sweden must embrace diversity'
Politics
Could Brits in Europe stop Brexit?
Sponsored Article
What's the best way for expats to transfer money abroad?
National
The first official picture of Sweden's new royal Prince Alexander
National
Sweden's Sami reindeer still live in the shadow of Chernobyl
Sponsored Article
Sigtunaskolan: 'The best of what Sweden has to offer'
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: April 20th
Sponsored Article
How to launch your international career
National
Why was a Nazi flag hoisted in a Swedish town on Hitler's birthday?
National
How did Sweden's deputy PM get in trouble over New York comments?
Sponsored Article
Becoming an expat: where to start
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: April 16th-17th
Sponsored Article
'I may work at a Swedish company, but we’re global'
Culture
Sweden finally axes historic dancing ban
Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: Stockholm's secret dating scene
International
Have you phoned Sweden yet?
Sponsored Article
'Swedes must realize only soft power can defeat radicalism'
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: April 13th
National
Is booze going up in Sweden?
National
How Sweden's fake 'smombie' traffic sign is being used for real
Culture
Sweden's Tarzan drops trousers
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: April 9th-10th
Sport
Zlatan wants to be new 'Rambo'
National
Swedes in a huff about giant TV penis
3,269
jobs available
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:
psdmedia.se