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Cocaine use in Sweden at 'record levels': investigation

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Cocaine use in Sweden at 'record levels': investigation
Samples of cocaine seized by Swedish customs. File photo: Christine Olsson / TT
12:03 CEST+02:00
Cocaine is becoming cheaper and more common in Sweden, leading to a dramatic increase in the number of deaths related to the drug, according to a new investigation.

The study, by journalists from Swedish state broadcaster SVT and four regional publications, indicates that cocaine use in Sweden has reached record levels, raising further questions over the country's zero tolerance drugs policy. 

Before 2012, police made fewer than 1,000 drug busts involving cocaine, whereas that figure rose to 3,700 in 2018, according to the study on the usage and impact of cocaine. Customs busts involving cocaine have also increased from below 100 before 2012 to around 300 in recent years.

The drug has also led to more deaths: in 2018, cocaine was judged to be the cause of death in 20 cases, compared to just one case per year some years ago, according to the Swedish Forensic Medicine Agency (Rättsmedicinalverket). And cocaine was present in 104 autopsies, the same agency said, a ten-fold increase since 2011.

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The autopsies also suggested a change in how the drug is used in Sweden. Whereas cocaine-related deaths in earlier years almost always took place at parties or in the presence of other people, last year most people who died due to the drug died alone.

"It is a tenfold increase due to increased access and increased use in society," Robert Kronstrand, a research and development strategist at Rättsmedicinalverket, told SVT Nyheter.

"This is a different scenario than we have seen before. This suggests that the use of cocaine has shifted from the party scene to the more typical drug addict," he said.

The study also looked at the proportion of people who tested positive for minor drug offences who had used cocaine.

Last year, 21 percent, or one in five, of this group tested positive for cocaine, whereas in 2011 the drug only accounted for five percent of positive drugs tests.

The total number of positive drugs tests has remained relatively stable over this time, but in the past cannabis and amphetamine have been the most common drugs identified.

The methods used for taking blood samples have improved over this time, but Kronstrand said this was unlikely to explain the sharp increase.

Under current Swedish law, which has not been modified for decades, police can detain and give a compulsory urine test to anyone they suspect of being high, and then charge then for drug crimes if they are found to have drugs in their system.

However, a majority of parliament's Committee on Health and Welfare is in favour of a rethink of the country's strict drugs policies. 

The Left Party, the only political party in Sweden currently advocating for the legalization of drugs for personal use, has called for the country to learn from Portugal's focus on rehabilitation and support for addicts rather than punishment.

Portugal has seen dramatic drops in drug usage, drug-related crimes and overdose deaths since it decriminalized all drugs in 2001.  ¨

The research was carried out by journalists from SVT and from the Gotlands Allehanda, Västerbottens-Kuriren, Barometern, and Oskarshamns-Tidningen newspaper as part of the Gräv19 investigative journalism conference.

READ ALSO: Deadly violence in Sweden fell in 2018, preliminary stats show

 
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