Latvian care for Swedish drug abusers

Young Swedish drug addicts might well find themselves cared for in Latvian rehabilitation centres in the not so distant future.

Stockholm City Council is exploring the possibility of building a rehabilitation centre in the Latvian capital Riga for both Latvian and Swedish patients. The target group is young adults aged 18-25 and participation would be voluntary.

Swedish patients would be able to stay at the centre between three to six months.

“This is an important group of people who still have their a long future ahead of them,” said project leader Jonas Bergsten.

“And yet the group includes people who have been abusing for a long time and are difficult to motivate. In Sweden there is very little care for this group specifically because it is so expensive.”

While the Latvian carers would get the benefit of a Swedish drug rehabilitation model, Stockholm health services would benefit from lower overheads and therefore be able to make this important service possible.

The plans are well-advanced but the project still needs a legal blessing from local councils. And unions are not so sure about the idea.

Elisabeth Hammarstedt,of the regional authorities’ trade union ‘Kommunal’, told Swedish Radio’s Ekot programme that it is ‘strange’ to spend Swedish tax money abroad instead of letting them work in Sweden.

In the past it has not been unusual to rent care places from medical authorities in Iceland and France, but this is the first time that Stockholm city council is planning its own foreign treatment centre.

Riga would welcome the project since drug abusers in Latvia are now cared for in mental institutions, something that changed in Sweden in 1997. Swedish medical staff would work alongside Latvian, but all other services such as food preparation, transport and night duties will be taken care of by Latvian staff.

“This means that we can reduce the costs for a treatment place by half”, said Jonas Bergsten to Dagens Nyheter.

The common language at the centres will be English, but on a one-to-one basis the patients will be able to speak their own language with the medical staff. All that needs to be solved now is the legal aspects of local authority staff working abroad and then the centres could be up and running by 2007.