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CRIME

Cocaine use in Sweden at ‘record levels’: investigation

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.

Cocaine use in Sweden at 'record levels': investigation
Samples of cocaine seized by Swedish customs. File photo: Christine Olsson / TT

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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POLITICS

Swedish party leader calls for chemical castration of sex offenders

Sweden's Christian Democrats have called for tougher sentences for sex offenders and making release conditional on chemical castration.

Swedish party leader calls for chemical castration of sex offenders

The Swedish Christian Democrats (KD) leader has called for the chemical castration of certain sex offenders as part of plans for a tougher grip on sexual crime and punishment in Sweden.

Speaking to the Swedish parliament on July 1st, KD party leader Ebba Busch said, “Every day, 27 rapes are reported. How many days must pass before the government takes action?”

“Today we propose that rapists and people who commit sexual crimes against children should be able to be chemically castrated.”

The controversial chemical castration proposal was the headline grabbing soundbite in a broader set of proposals to recalibrate the structure of Sweden’s sexual crime sentencing.

Among KD’s proposed sentencing changes is a life sentence for the aggravated rape of a child, the removal of automatic conditional release for sex offenders, and an increase in the sentence for aggravated rape up to a maximum of 25 years.

In addition, they want a “monitoring period” for convicts who have been released, equivalent to one third of the sentence served.

They also want to establish a national knowledge centre for sexual violence where people who feel that they have “problematic sexuality” can receive support. The center must also “be able to administer chemical castration on a voluntary basis to those who are concerned about unwanted sexual thoughts and impulses and have a compulsive sexuality”.

READ ALSO: What’s the Swedish Christian Democrats’ abortion contract all about?

Chemical castration, she suggested, should be implemented as a condition of release for some sexual offenders. “It may mean that if a person like Nytorgsmannen is to be able to become a free man, a chemical castration must have taken place before the release,” Busch said, referring to Andreas Holm, a man sentenced in 2021 for 35 different crimes including 24 rapes.

But this is not the first time the Christian Democrats have toyed with the idea of chemical castration as a form of legal punishment. As far back as 20 years ago, under former leader Alf Svensson, the right-wing party raised the idea of conditional chemical castration of rapists and pedophiles.

At the time the proposal was rejected by all other parties.

Chemical castration, the process of preventing sex hormone production through chemicals, can reduce sexual libido but the effects on those with deviant behaviours are relatively unknown.

Chemical castration can also prove costly as it is not a one-off treatment but rather requires regular interventions, which means the police would be reliant on those sentences to chemical castration making regular trips to the authorities for further treatment.

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