Examination of Witness (Questions 1481
TUESDAY 19 MARCH 2002
1481. Good morning and welcome. Thank you very
much for coming all the way from Sweden to enlighten us. As you
are probably aware, we have been conducting for some months now
an inquiry into British drugs policy, and I guess many of the
problems we face are similar to the ones that you face, and therefore
we are hoping to learn some lessons from the experience of others.
We have had witnesses from the Netherlands and also Sweden to
tell us about their approach to dealing with illegal drugs, and
now we hope to learn from you. Can I start by asking you to outline
the general principles of Swedish drug policy very briefly.
(Mr Löfstedt) I am delighted to
be here to present the Swedish drug policy. The main principles
are as expressed in the UN Conventions, a balanced approach. We
place equal importance on supply and demand and production. We
also see supply reduction as part of prevention. We know there
is a link between demand and availability of drugs, so one of
our goals has been that drugs must be as difficult to get hold
of as possible. We are also trying to work on attitudes towards
drugs and the use of drugs, so we are trying to avoid seeing drugs
as a normal part of society, the more extreme the better. We are
also trying to control prevention, but we have a good treatment
programme to help drug addicts get rid of their addiction. Those
are the main ideas.
1482. Is the emphasis on treatment or on criminal
sanctions? What is the balance between the two?
(Mr Löfstedt) The criminal sanctions are mainly
for trafficking, and drug addicts receive treatment. We try to
place equal importance on those two different areas. The best
way, of course, is to prevent the use of drugs at all, then we
would have no drug addicts. We think it is very important to have
good treatment available for drug addicts, but it is also important
to reduce the supply of drugs and criminalise trafficking.
1483. We understand that you have a national
(Mr Löfstedt) Yes.
1484. When was that introduced?
(Mr Löfstedt) It is going through parliament
at the moment. I expect parliament will make a decision during
1485. In what way does it change existing Swedish
(Mr Löfstedt) There is no particular change in
the main direction. I have provided you with a summary from the
Swedish Drugs Commission, which stated that the policy in itself
is a good policy, but more efforts are needed in its implementation,
which is what the action plan will address. We also have a national
drug coordinator. He is not taking responsibility away from any
authority or municipality, but his work is to support and to be
an engine in the system. I had hoped he would be able to come
today, but unfortunately that was not possible.
1486. Your Commission examined drugs policy
for some time.
(Mr Löfstedt) Yes.
1487. What conclusions did that come to that
were different from how you had been conducting policy before
that? What changes did it recommend?
(Mr Löfstedt) Talking about the policy in general,
they did not propose any changes in the direction of policy; it
was more practical solutions. The Commission stated that there
was a difference between the oral presentation of the policy and
the practical implementation. We have a very decentralised system.
Prevention and treatment are the responsibility of the municipalities,
both as to provision and as to funding, which means there may
be differences between municipalities. During the Nineties there
was a decrease in effort for drug addicts, both treatment and
prevention, for several reasons, one of which is economicwe
have the same developments as other countries in Europeand
another was that at the end of the Eighties the number of drug
addicts and the prevalence of drug taking among schoolchildren
was about 3-4 per cent, which meant the drug problem was not seen
on the streets. It was there, of course, but it was not obvious.
Politicians are more attracted to spending their money on other
problems which are more visible. There are other explanations,
of course, but now we are seeing the same development as in many
other areas, with new groups of youngsters being attracted by
drugs, which is a threat to our society, and we need to improve
our implementation of the policy rather than change the policy
1488. Does Swedish law recognise any difference
between the seriousness of different types of drugs?
(Mr Löfstedt) Not if you look at the law itself,
but there is a difference when you come to court. There will be
different sentences depending on whether you are dealing in a
kilo of heroin or a kilo of cannabis. I am not an expert in this
area, so I cannot tell you any more about it, but of course there
is a difference. We do not talk about soft drugs and hard drugs.
We do not think that cannabis, for instance, should be recognised
as a soft drug.
1489. In terms of selling, there is a difference,
as you say. In terms of consuming, is there no difference?
(Mr Löfstedt) No.
1490. You have a zero tolerance policy to all
types of drugs?
(Mr Löfstedt) Yes.
1491. Do you prosecute the consumers?
(Mr Löfstedt) It is criminal to use drugs. The
main purpose of that is to identify people at an early stage,
when they are just starting to abuse drugs. They are prosecuted
but they are not sent to prison. We use the police to identify
young people with drugs problems, the information is given to
the social authorities, and they are responsible for investigating
the needs of the young person, to see what should be done, which
could be anything from nothing to treatment facilities of one
kind or another. It is a very individual perspective on each drug
user. But at the other end of the scale, it is criminal.
1492. Are you saying that Swedish law does not
distinguish between the harmfulness of the drugs ecstasy or heroin
when it comes to dealing with the consumer?
(Mr Löfstedt) When we are dealing with the drug
addict, we try to see what the need of that person is. Everyone
who has been working in treatment knows there are differences
in dealing with a heroin addict and a cannabis or amphetamine
addict. There are similarities too, of course, but when we treat,
that is what we try to do when we come to individual drug addicts.
1493. Could I put it to you that although the
Swedish policy is zero tolerance in theory, in practice it is
not all that different from the same policies conducted in Switzerland
or in Holland.
(Mr Löfstedt) There are many differences, but
also similarities. I think there is a difference with the Dutch
policy, for instance. Society, the government and the authorities
are involved in drug dealing, so to say. There is a tolerance
of cannabis use. To the Swedish Government that would be a strange
thing to do, that society or the government or the authorities
should be actively involved in promoting or making it easier to
use drugs. That is an important point, that we try to make it
as difficult as possible to find and to use drugs.
1494. Over the last 30 years or so have problems
with drugs got worse, then better for a while and then worse again?
(Mr Löfstedt) Yes. The drug problem started in
the late Sixties/beginning of the Seventies. Formerly, it was
a minor problem, among medical staff, jazz musicians, actors,
people like that. During the Seventies and the hippy era we had
the same attitudes as we see in some parts of Europe today. They
were broadly liberal. We did not think cannabis was so harmful.
We also had amphetamine products being prescribed to drug addicts.
Things were not as well managed. As a matter of fact, it was not
well managed at all. We also saw a huge expansion in the numbers
of those addicted to amphetamines. Amphetamine has been the major
drug in Sweden ever since then, excluding cannabis. Like other
countries, we have a number of drugs where possession of a small
amount for personal use would not involve prosecution, but our
experience was that the first group to take advantage of that
were the drug traffickers, because they never had more than that
amount on them and they were never prosecuted. So we saw a rise
in prevalence during the Seventies. There was a lot of debate.
At the end of the Seventies/beginning of the Eighties we changed
to a more restrictive policy, as I tried to explain earlier. In
the middle of the Eighties HIV was found among drug users. Luckily,
we had a very small number of HIV-positive drug addicts. Rather
than just giving clean needles to drug addicts, the Government
launched a huge campaign to find every injection drug addict and
inform them about HIV, to motivate them for treatment, and there
was a lot of testing. In my view, testing is the most important
thing, more important than clean needles. The key point is that
it is important that drug addicts use clean needles and do not
share needles. That is the reason, and I think we succeeded in
that. We put in a lot of effort, and we saw the number of drug
addicts, especially young people, new recruits, go down. Then
during the Nineties the efforts went down a little. We also had
a lot of influences from other countries, and we saw a rise in
the consumption of drugs. We are now trying to put more effort
into the policy again, and hopefully we will turn it round again.
1495. You have mentioned various programmes
the Government has launched, but in terms of the action plan,
what emphasis are you placing on prevention and drug education?
(Mr Löfstedt) We place great importance on prevention.
It is a key part of our policy. A very important part of prevention
is, of course, public opinion and attitudes. If normal people
do not think drugs are something which is acceptable in society,
there will be less risk that young people will test it. There
are always small groups that will do it anyway, but young people
normally do what their friends are doing, and if your friends
are not using drugs, you will not use them either. If all your
friends, and even your parents are doing it, then of course, you
have a problem.
1496. Presumably your prevention work extends
to schools and education programmes in schools for young people.
(Mr Löfstedt) Yes. We have a very social perspective
on drug policy. We see it mainly as a social problem, more than
a medical problem, which also affects our thinking about drug
problems. Basically, of course, we talk about what environment
and what circumstances we give our young people to grow up in.
We also have information, of course, in schools and elsewhere,
but also social workers try to get together with youngsters, to
find out what is happening, to talk to them and influence them
at an early stage. We try very much to work with public opinion
and attitudes towards drugs. That is perhaps the most important
1497. In terms of the budget to combat drug
use, what proportion would you say goes on prevention and education?
(Mr Löfstedt) This is very difficult to answer.
First of all, we have a decentralised system and there is no collection
of data about funding at a national level. Secondly, it is also
a problem saying what is prevention and what is not. If we give
our youngsters a good school education, that is probably also
good drug prevention. There are a lot of problems with definitions
and in seeing how much we spend on the policy. I am not able to
answer that question.
1498. We have heard that drug use went up, then
declined, and is now on the increase again. What is the prevalence
in Sweden of drug abuse generally, and specifically amongst young
(Mr Löfstedt) It is around 10-11 per cent among
schoolchildren, 16 year olds. The highest rate we had was in the
Seventies, which was around 14 per cent, and the lowest was at
the end of the Eighties, around 3-4 per cent. We do not have any
really good figures on the prevalence among the population as
a whole. A lot of people who were using drugs in the Seventies
are still alive, so around 25 per cent maybe 30, but that is a
1499. How do these figures compare with alcohol
(Mr Löfstedt) Alcohol abuse is a bigger problem
to society, of course. We have many more alcoholics than drug