Clean needle advocates report themselves to police

Two leading figures in the Swedish Users Union (Svenska brukarföreningen - SBF) have reported themselves to the police for handing out clean syringes to drug addicts.

On Friday morning the organization’s national chairman, Berne Stålenkrantz, and the chairman of the Stockholm division, Johan Stenbäck, presented themselves at Norrmalm police station in the Swedish capital.

The two men want to get an official assessment of the nature of their crime and the punishment it carries.

“If the penalty is mild we will continue with what we are doing,” Stålenkrantz told news agency TT.

Having last week publicized the fact that they were providing drug users with clean needles, the SBF suddenly found its financing from Stockholm City Council under threat.

“An official who works with grants was told by his boss that they could not accept this.

“But if the penalty turns out to be mild and the council persists with its threats, then we know they are doing so for moral reasons,” said Stålenkrantz.

The SBF chairman also revealed that a colleague suffering from a Hepatitis C was planning to report the city’s social services department to the police.

“He is doing this because he has contracted a deadly illness after being refused clean syringes.

“He also intends mentioning that he was a victim of our crime, since he has received clean syringes from us,” said Stålenkrantz.

Following consultation with legal advisors, the SBF also plans to report the Swedish state to the European Union for its failure to comply with EU rules surrounding the common market.

Syringes can be bought at pharmacies in other European countries without a prescription; the group therefore aims to import syringes from Denmark while at the same time reporting themselves to customs officials.

For almost a year, Swedish county councils and town councils have been give free rein to establish needle exchange programmes if they so wish. In the Skåne region of southern Sweden programmes of this type have kept the spread of HIV and hepatitis under control among injecting drug users for the last twenty years.

The method has been applied in over sixty countries worldwide and is recommended by leading researchers, UN organizations and Swedish disease control agencies.

In Stockholm county council, however, the parties of the centre-right governing coalition are deeply divided on the issue. Despite an ongoing HIV epidemic among injecting drug users in the city, there are currently no plans to set up a needle exchange programme.

“We are handing out syringes for purely humanitarian reasons. And we are forced to do so since society is not providing this type of healthcare,” said Stålenkrantz.