High and Low

For Swedish youngsters on the look out for artificial stimulation, the Internet has proved a ready source of recreational drugs, and websites selling controlled drugs are booming. However, the more reputable face of Internet drug sales is falling on hard times.

The Internet boom left egg on many a Swedish face, and it seems that even the public sector is not immune. When some bright spark at Apoteket, the state pharmacy, suggested selling its products over the net, it must have seemed like a wizard idea. But red-faced bosses are now admitting that only 100 people a month are buying pharmaceuticals from the website.

Apoteket, which has a monopoly on sales of all controlled medicines in Sweden, claimed when it launched its website in January 2002 that it would make millions of crowns a year from Internet sales of non-prescription products.

“Sales are very low, particularly when you compare them to Apoteket’s overall sales figures,” the organisation’s e-commerce chief Klas-Göran Petersson told Svenska Dagbladet. “But the idea is that they will grow.”

But the head of the Swedish union for pharmacists said that the debacle was predictable. “New technology’s all very well,” Lennart Axelsson told the paper, “but they should have learnt from other sectors where they’ve had to close down their e-commerce operations.”

This is not to say that it’s always hard to sell drugs over the Internet. An article in Monday’s Svenska Dagbladet claimed that drugs such as the horse tranquilizer ketamin were doing a roaring trade over the net. Not that there is a sudden rush to tranquilize horses in Sweden. Rather, the drug is now one of the leisure drugs of choice for young people in Stockholm.

Now an alliance of police, prosecutors and customs officials is targeting both the online dealers and the young drug users. “The attitude of some young people to drugs is scary. As long as there are people willing to experiment with new medicines, the problem will continue,” police drug specialist Leif Brunell told the paper.