27th September 2016
Sweden's battle against drugs and prejudice
The Swedish government has launched an investigation on how to prevent drug-related deaths. Last month, Health Minister Gabriel Wikström announced that he wants needle exchange programmes to be managed by county councils instead of councils. County councils cover larger areas in the country. The report will be delivered in April next year.
"Needle exchange programmes are an important measure towards disease control, which we know from Swedish, as well as international, experiences. The aim of these propositions is to make needle exchange programmes available all over the country. This will give us new opportunities to meet groups that have previously been difficult to get hold of," Wikström said in a press release.
For decades, a majority of Swedish political parties have claimed that harm reduction programmes such as needle exchange programmes and drug consumption rooms "encourage" drug use rather than do good. But according to the 2016 annual report by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Sweden has the second highest death rate from drug use in Europe. Only Estonia has higher drug-related deaths per capita. According to Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare, 48 percent of drug-related deaths in 2014 were caused by an overdose.
In November last year, UN's Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Flavia Pansieri, criticised Sweden's views on drugs. She told public broadcaster SVT that she was "surprised to see that [Sweden] lags behind a number of other countries in terms of its policies on drugs."
Stockholm's needle exchange programme has been available since 2012. The programmes have since become available at several places including Malmö, Jönköping, and Kalmar. And according to the Public Health Agency of Sweden, they're actually working. "For the individual, these efforts can improve the chances to a life without serious or deadly infectious disease. For society as a whole it all comes down to improving the possibilities of equal health," Johan Carlson, director general of the Public Health Agency said in a statement.