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Drug of Abuse: The Swedish Approach to DOA

According to 2019 Sweden's Drug Report, cannabis is the prevalent illicit substance. However, its consumption is mostly concentrated among young adults aged 15-24, males more than females. A study conducted in 2011 indicated approximate 8000 people injecting drugs, mostly opioids and/or amphetamine. A survey conducted in 2017 (Vanor och Konsekvenser) showed that 4% of people aged 17-84 years used at least one narcotic in the previous year.

Also in 2017, 626 deaths were reported, a slight increase compared to previous years. Approximately 75% were males, with a median age of 41. One of the main findings of the respective toxicology reports was polydrug use in many cases.

One interesting fact is that, while the DOA-associated death rate in Sweden is mostly under the average rate of the EU, the situation is different in two specific age groups: 25-29 and 30-34.

In Sweden, the tendency is to treat and prevent. As such, the Comprehensive Strategy for Alcohol, Narcotics, Doping and Tobacco 2016-20 emphasizes the ease of access and quality of care in drug-treatment centers. These are organized by the Swedish Social Services in local communities (outpatient), hospitals and residential facilities. There are also compulsory treatment ways.

One distinct thing about Sweden is another response to DOA use. The overall strategy related to narcotics also applies, indiscriminately, to inmates with DOA issues. They have access to drug treatment programs focused on abstinence and based on cognitive and behavioral interventions. The latest inmate census conducted in 2016 revealed that around half of the population in prison had used illicit substances in the 12 months prior to their imprisonment. While drug use in prisons is reportedly low, routine drug tests are mandatory.

The drug policy of the country is zero tolerance, with all DOA-related activities being considered criminal offenses (i.e. supply, sale, possession, acquisition, processing, packaging, etc.). While for a minor offense the penalty might be a hefty fine or six months of prison time, exceptionally serious offenses can lead up to ten years in prison.
As such, many companies in Sweden take drug testing seriously, requiring it from new employees. Drug screening is also becoming more and more common practice.

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