“In part, it reduces the risk of the spread of blood-borne diseases and in part – and perhaps most importantly – it increases contact with the people affected so they can receive different kinds of support,” said Anders Tegnell of Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen), the agency which approved the request.
“Other programmes, not least those in Lund and Malmö, have shown that those contacts can help prevent addicts from being hurt unnecessarily.”
Last month, the Stockholm County Council (Landstinget) – the body responsible for overseeing the public healthcare system – filed a formal petition with the national health board seeking permission to launch a needle exchange programme.
In the wake of the health board’s approval, plans are underway to house the needle exchange programme in a pavilion to be constructed at St. Göran’s Hospital on Kungsholmen in central Stockholm.
The pavilion is scheduled to be completed by the autumn, according to County Council member Birgitta Rydberg of the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet).
“It was hard to find a landlord which was ready to house the operation. In the end, it was decided it was better to use space at a hospital on land owned by the County Council,” she told the TT news agency.
Berne Stålencrantz, chair of the Swedish Drug Users’ Union (Svenska brukarföreningen), expressed his enthusiasm over news that the needle exchange programme was finally moving forward.
“One loses steam after so many years. I’ve been working on this issue ever since I started the users’ union ten years ago,” he told TT.
He added that everything must now go according to plan with the needle exchange effort, expressing hopes that neighbours wouldn’t complain and that no drug or syringe sales would take place near the facility.
“But we’ve offered to help and asked for funding to have two people on site. If we’re standing there, people wouldn’t simply deal right outside in plain sight. We don’t want this to go awry,” said Stålencrantz.
While Åke Örtqvist of Stockholm’s infectious disease division admits there is no scientific way to quantify the medical benefits of needle exchange programmes, he said evidence from programmes elsewhere suggest they do help cut the spread of some diseases.
“Experience in Skåne and Finland indicate that they are a very good way to reduce HIV and Hepatitis B infections, and maybe Hepatitis C,” he said to TT.