A more balanced view of Swedish legal perscription during the 1960s

There is great general support in Sweden for the so called "restrictive" narcotics policy and criticizing it means facing the wrath of many people. Regardless of this it must be pointed out that the current policy has massive negative side effects, very unpleasant penalistic and anti democratic aspects and has become gradually more harsh in a climate of misleading propaganda without scientific ground.

The subject is so wide that it is difficult to decide how to approach it, but a possible starting point is the swedish legal drugs prescription project of the 1960's which is being used as a standard argument when Swedish propagandists try to defend the current narcotics policy at home and abroad and lately not least in the European Union.

Officially it is said that this project, which took place between 1965 and 1967, was a "catastrophy", "swedish medical histories biggest fiasco" and "the immediate cause of the large Swedish drug epidemic". It is often mentioned in the media that "4 million doses of narcotics" (Aftonbladet 6/6 1997) were handed out to Stockholms drug addicts. None of these claims, which for 30 years have been taken as true by the Swedish public and are today being presented to a larger european public, stand up to close analysis.

As the associate professor of criminology, Leif Lenke, writes in Arbetaren, No 29, 1997, the official picture is an "enormously exaggerated myth" and that it is evident from available scientific material that it is extremely difficult to draw any conclusions from the project and it should not therefore be used to justify any categorical statements or form the basis of any political position. It cannot be shown that the project had any influence on the consumption of drugs in society as a whole, and neither can it be shown that it had any negative effects, for example increased criminality, mortality or worsened living conditions among the participants. It was not "4 million doses of narcotics" which were handed out but 15 kg of amphetamine, and 3,3 kg of opiates, which is reasonable considering the number of participants and the time span. However, it can easily be shown that the project is used to mislead the public opinion.

One of the central figures in this contex is Jakob Lindgerg who is today director-general of the Swedish Institute of Public Health, a position he takes advantage of, for example, when he informs an interested international public in the English language booklet "Drug Policy. The Swedish Experience" when he informs that there was a "widespread leakage of legally perscribed drugs to the illegal market", and that crimes other than drug crimes increased among the participants. This is, and Jakob Lindberg is aware of it, impossible to prove.

Not for nothing was this the same Lindberg who in 1969 wrote the Addict Treatment Committee's peculiar report (SOU 1969:53) about the legal perscription project. By means of creatively juggling with figures and, in the scientific context, insiduosly including some and exclude other subgroups of the statistical material, he succeeded in suggesting a catastrophy that never existed. The female participants are for some reason excluded from the criminality statistics and a group of 35 persons, who by definition did not belong to the participating group because the time they had been legally prescribed drugs was shorter than 3 months, are included in the mortality figures. The claimed increase in criminality can be attributed to 10 persons, habitual criminals, who spent most of the time before the project in jail (the comparative period) and committed 70% of all the registered crimes 1966. The only conclusion which be drawn from this is that habitual criminals do not commit registered crimes while in jail, but that's not really something to write a report about. The truth is that not many conclusions at all can be drawn from the legal prescription project because it was not a scientifically arranged project (among other things, there was no control group), and it was stopped for moral reasons, not practical ones.

Legal perscription projects in Switzerland, Liverpool and other places show or suggest that the method works relatively well for those involved without having any demonstrable negative effects on society as a whole, even though none have been as liberal as the Swedish one. A few older research projects from the USA (Kolb 1928, etc) are the only ones that have investigated prohibition versus a legalisation and they show that it is the stigmatization of drug use and abuse rather than the drugs themselves which causes health problems and social marginalization. Even Sweden, which probably has not been as "drugged" as during the boom in barbiturates in the 1950s can be taken as an example. Today scheduled as narcotics and deregistered, barbiturates were consumed by a well-situated and highly productive middle class and therefore were never considered a social problem. Today this has been completely forgotten, allowing our representatives to say that there were no more than a few hundreds of drug abusers in Sweden in the mid-1950s when in fact there were probably tens of thousands.

Swedish drug policy, which according to Minister of Social Affairs Margot Wallstrom, is being "successfully promoted" internationally rests on, at best, very fragile ground and there are several reasons to give it closer scrutiny. As the UN Drug Control Program states: "Observers of the Swedish method of drug control suggest that opposition to drugs is exploited to strengthen national identity in a situation where the traditional Swedish welfare state has been put under pressure due to changes in the country's economic situation" (World Drug Report, Vienna 1997).

In other words, it is not drugs and drug abuse that the Swedish drug policy is primarily about but other things like identity and national self-esteem. The ranks must be closed and we should be proud of a drug policy that has taken uniformed police and drug sniffing dogs into high schools, led to authorities advising parents to turn in their children (Haschboken, National Institute of Public Health, 1994) and, it should be emphasized, allowed Widar Andersson, the prime minister's advisor in drug issues, to write that "freedom of speech should be limited for those who covertly or openly advocate narcotics" (Hassela Agitation, 1996). After 30 years of covering up the facts, the drug control policy is on a medieval level and there is no longer any other way to defend it than by silencing its critics. What is the next step? public book burnings to hide the fascinating fact that Swedish drug policy is partially based on the criminal lifestyle of 10 people 30 years ago and two deaths that might and might not have had something to do with the legal prescription project?

Anders Forsberg