Sweden – Swedish Drug Policy in General

By tradition Sweden has had very restrictive drug policy, the exception being between 1965 and 1967 when a number of doctors were allowed to prescribe drugs to addicts: 200 were allowed to inject themselves with stimulants or opiates. There was an increase in drugs on the black market and in criminal activity among addicts. There was a return to the restrictive policy at the end of the 1960s and it has never been reinforced since then.

Cannabis has always been treated on the same level as other narcotics. No action has ever been taken to decriminalise cannabis. A sentence of several years in prison is the norm for a narcotics felony.

Surveys of l6 yr. olds and conscripts (18-19) have shown a decline in the proportion of young persons having ever tried drugs. In 1971 the percentage was 15% dropping to about 4% in 1991. 90% involved the use of cannabis.

Abuse of cannabis has now extended to the older age groups. as has abuse of opiates and stimulants. Conviction in the 25-39yr age group rose from 22% in 1975 to 56% in 1989. It appears that many of these addicts have carried their habits from the 1960s and 70s to treatment and rehabilitation.

The Swedish Addiction Perspective in Global Perspective was the first country in Europe to be affected by drug abuse of an epidemic type immediately after the Second World War. The intravenous injecting of amphetamines started in 1945 and was surveyed annually in Stockholm from 1965 to 1987 250000 arrests (for any offence) were examined for needle marks in their cubital regions.

The epidemiological study used an objective marker and from these results concluded that a permissive drugs policy leads to the rapid spread of drug use, a restrictive policy not only checks it but also reduces the rate of consumption. This restrictive policy was based on a general consensus of social refusal to tolerate illicit drug use, and strict law enforcement. It remains the most closely studied and documented drug epidemic.

Epidemics often spread very rapidly and show exponential growth. For example. in Sweden the number of users doubled every 13 months during the 20 years from 1946 to 1965; in England the number of heroin addicts doubled every 16 months from 1959 to 1968.

In 1946 a young Swede learned the techniques of intravenous injection in the USA and introduced it into a small ‘bohemian’ coterie in Stockholm. It had spread outside this circle in 1949 and to Gothenburg in 1956. to Finland in 1965. to Denmark in 1966, Norway in 1967 and to Germany in 1972.

The author of this report Prof. Nils Bejerot. an epidemiologist, assumed that injection into a vein, a breach of the normal mode of drug taking, was so extreme that it must co-exist with other criminal activity. He therefore instructed nurses to commence in. 1965 the inspection of the veins of all arrestees in Stockholm (practically all intravenous drug users turn up eventually). The investigation still continues. In the 3 years following the introduction in 1965 of the ultra-liberal drug policy the proportion of intravenous drug users among the arrested clientele had risen from 20% to 40% In 1969 with the extra-restrictive policy in place, the epidemic was checked for the first time: it culminated in 1972 when large syndicates were broken up. However, demand was still there and the introduction of heroin heralded a new phase of the drug-taking  epidemic. Finally, in 1976, when 60% of all arrestees were found to be drug-abusers the epidemic was stabilised. With some minor increases in the severity of drug legislation the figure appears to remain constant at 40%.

1. Swedish Drug Policy in General. In Cannabis Physiopathology. Epidemiology, Detection.’ Nahas G & Latour C (eds) CRC Press. 1993.
2. Bejerot N. Drug Abuse and Drug Policy. Acta Psychiatr. Scand. Suppl. 256. Copenhagen, 1975.
3. Narkotikaboken, Socialstyrelsen Redovisar 1988. National Board of Health and Welfare. Stockholm. 1988.
4. Report 91. ‘Trends in Alcohol and Drug Use in Sweden’. The Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs (CAN). Stockholm 1991.
5. Bejerot N. The Swedish Addiction Epidemic in Global Perspective. In ‘Cannabis: Physiopathology, Epidemiology. Detection) Nahas G & Latour C (eds). CRC Press. 1993. Bejerot N. ‘Drogue et Societe. Massoa Paris 1990.

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