Swedish drug addicts seek 'better' help in UK

Maddy Savage
Maddy Savage - [email protected] • 5 Mar, 2015 Updated Thu 5 Mar 2015 08:25 CEST
Swedish drug addicts seek 'better' help in UK

One of the UK's leading drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres is opening its doors to Swedish drug addicts and expats living in Scandinavia amid concerns that treatment in Sweden is hampered by bureaucracy and fails to offer therapy in English.


Castle Craig, which is Scotland's oldest and largest addiction clinic offering both medical treatment and psychiatric and complementary therapies, is targeting people living in Sweden who are struggling to find treatment that works for them. It is set to receive its first patient from Scandinavia on March 9th.
One of the main problems for addicts in Sweden is a bureaucratic system that leaves many addicts with the feeling that they are falling between the cracks.
"Unlike in many European countries, in Sweden responsibility for professional addiction treatment is shared between local municipalities and county councils and split between hospitals and social services, so it can be quite confusing and complicated," Anna Sjöström, the clinic's representative in Stockholm told The Local. 
"Sweden has a strong reputation for healthcare but when it comes to addicts, they can end up slipping through the system because of this shared responsibility, especially if they are moving around or have dual diagnoses such as anorexia or other psychiatric problems," she added.

Castle Craig patients. Photo: Castle Craig
The Scottish clinic is inviting both Swedish-born patients and immigrants living in Sweden to travel to the centre in the Peeblesshire countryside and to seek residential treatment under the terms of a recent EU directive which allows citizens of the 28 European Union member states to seek healthcare in other nations.
"There is no treatment in English in Sweden and yet there are many people who use English living there who are addicts - not just those from English-speaking nations but other immigrants who speak better English than Swedish and who would therefore benefit from this," said Sjöström.

Castle Craig is located 40km from Edinburgh. Photo: TT
The first addict bound for the clinic is a 46-year-old British-Australian woman who has been living and working in Sweden for 12 years and has previously sought treatment in the Stockholm area.
"It took a long time to get appointments and there was no follow up. I was never offered information about group therapy," she told The Local, asking to be described simply as 'Jill'.
"I really had to keep asking for help in different places - Vårdcentralen [the doctors' surgery in a municipality just outside Stockholm] sent me to the local hospital and they then suggested a psychologist. I had to wait four months to get an appointment. They day I should have met the psychologist they cancelled because they were sick. Then it was summer and they never called back. Then I went back to the hospital and got prescribed terrible tranquilizers that made me so ill I could not work," she said.
Jill is yet to learn if she has secured funding for the treatment which in Sweden must be applied for via Försäkringskassan, Sweden's Social Insurance Agency. But if permission is granted she can claim back the costs of her stay in Scotland from the Swedish state under the terms of the EU directive.
Viktoria Sjöberg, a senior legal advisor at the agency, told The Local on Wednesday that Försäkringskassan currently processes around 50 to 100 applications a year for treatment elsewhere in the EU.
"We cannot comment on individual cases. Drug addicts can get good care in Sweden and it is not up to us to give advice on that. But people can apply to the Swedish Social Insurance Agency - the form is online - if they want to seek prior authorization to seek healthcare that they do not feel they can get under the system in Sweden," she said.
Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare told The Local that changes to the way addiction treatment is provided in Sweden were being implemented as part of efforts to improve and streamline the system.
"A government inquiry recommended that county councils should have the full responsibility for addiction treatment, however the previous centre-right government decided against this. What they decided instead was to make changes to legislation for health and social care, so now county councils and municipalities have to make written agreements about who should do what and when, to make things clearer," said analyst Maria Branting.
"Maybe there are some places that haven't done this yet, it takes a while," she acknowledged.
But according to Sjöström, Castle Craig can offer "a level of care is much higher than you can get anywhere in Sweden - even in the best private treatment centres".
Located 40km south of Edinburgh, the clinic has 122 beds and over 25 therapists, and claims to have a "60 percent success rate".
It is one of around 100 residential drug centres in the UK, compared to just a handful in Sweden.

Ecstasy use is lower in Sweden than in many other parts of Europe. Photo: TT
While there are concerns from some quarters about the way Sweden deals with drug addicts, the country actually has one of the lowest drug consumption rates in Europe.
Sweden criminalized illicit drug use in 1988, thanks in large part to a two-decade campaign by a group called the Swedish National Association for a Drug-free Society (RNS). It followed a two-year attempt to introduce a more tolerant approach that was considered a failure by authorities.
Anyone even suspected of being "high" can be detained and given a compulsory urine test. If positive, they are slapped with a criminal charge and must stand trial.
Cocaine, ecstasy and even cannabis are consequently rarely seen on Swedish streets or in clubs around the country. Needle exchanges are uncommon in Sweden, although the Social Democrat Health Minister Gabriel Wikström has backed growing calls for more state-funded exchange projects.
Sweden also puts a strong emphasis on prevention strategies, with extensive drug awareness programmes in schools and even preschools.
According to figures released by European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) last year, only nine percent of the Swedish school population has tried cannabis, compared to 39 percent in France, 42 percent in the Czech Republic and around 25 percent in Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands.
But there are concerns that the country's tough 'zero tolerance' policy may be pushing up the number of drug-related deaths in the country.
In 2012 412 drug-induced deaths were reported in Sweden, double the number in 2004, when 188 drug-induced deaths were logged.
"My hope is to change something that could destroy me," said Jill, reflecting on her own potential mortality.
"The whole concept of Castle Craig is brilliant and to be able to live there and focus on learning how to control and stop alcohol gives me the best chance I could hope for."


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