“When you build up a trusting relationship and demonstrate the equal right to good health care, this increases the chances that those people may also get…help to manage or eventually to emerge from a drug addiction” said Johan Carlson, Director General of Sweden’s Public Health Agency in a statement last month.
On Monday, Gabriel Wikström visited the St George’s needle exchange in Stockholm alongside Left Party member of parliament Karin Rågsjö who has also been lobbying for a change in the law to allow more towns and cities to be able to introduce their own safety programmes, without needing the permission of municipal councils.
Similar schemes are already commonplace in many other European countries. Italy has the most – more than 300,000 – with the United Kingdom, Germany and France also offering a large number of programmes.
In Copenhagen, drug addicts can shoot up without fear of prosecution in legal injection rooms in the city, which provide sterile equipment.
Approximately 8,000 people inject drugs in Sweden, according to national statistics body Statistics Sweden. The median age for starting to take drugs among that group is 14 or 15.
Around 800 people a year currently contract Hepititus virus in Sweden as a result of dirty equipment.
Wikström told Aftonbladet that while he was lobbying hard for a change in the rules to help more towns and cities introduce needle swap programmes to happen as soon as possible, it remained unclear how long this would take.