Married, 2 children, 13, 15 years old
1982 Police academy
1987-1994 Local drug squad central City of Stockholm
1994 Detective Superintendent Swedish National Police Board
1995-1998 Vice consul, Consulate General of Sweden, St. Petersburg
Russia, Liaison officer for Nordic police and customs co-operation
1999 Director ECAD, European Cities Against Drugs
EMCDDA: Research centre or propaganda machine?
”There is nothing to show that a restrictive drug policy is better than a liberal one.”
That is what a Swedish civil servant said to me when I visited the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in Lisbon a couple of years ago.
EMCDDA is the common shortening for the centre with some 10 million budget and around 90 employees in Lisbon.
The centre was launched in 1993 in order to give the EU member countries reliable and comparable information on the drug situation in Europe.
The question is, whether the centre fulfils its purpose. My standpoint is that this is not the case.
Instead, the centre is being used for pursuing liberal drug policies. Whether this is by orders of the leadership, or due to individual persons or individual personnel groups,
I cannot answer, but the fact remains. The reports that are produced, the general goals and aims, all point more or less in the same direction. What message that comes through is that a restrictive drug policy is no better than a liberal one.
EMCDDA’s reports say very little of the overall context. They are read by relatively few people. I´m in the habit of asking around those involved in drug issues in Europe, if they have read the reports, and very few actually have.
By the way, how many of you here have read their latest annual report?
The reports are used for finding arguments for own points of view. Something for the specialists to throw at each other.
To show you what I mean, I propose to go through 4 subject fields, most of them from the annual report 2004.
First of all, the Centre, in almost all cases, disclaims any responsibility for the contents of the reports. After all, the data comes from the member countries, and are gathered in different ways in different countries, so the readers must be aware of the statistic differences in order to form a correct opinion, it says in the foreword. However, it is not only the tables, often slipshod and non-scientific, that define the drug political tone, but above all the explanatory notes.
In Europe, there are two countries that traditionally stand for the drug political extremes.
Holland as the drug liberal alternative where the state allows open selling of cannabis,
and Sweden with its restrictive policy which prohibits also the use of drugs. To show that there are no benefits by a restrictive policy, it is important to use figures that are to Sweden’s disadvantage, and withhold, or reduce the significance of, figures that are favourable to Sweden.
Drug related deaths
Therefore it is not surprising that EMCDDA still uses drug related deaths as an key indicator.
Everyone familiar with the issue knows that it is impossible to compare drug related deaths between different countries. Firstly, it is political definition, secondly, even with the same definition, the data are collected in different ways in almost all countries.
In Sweden, a post-mortem is performed to almost all death cases except those very old or those who die in hospitals where the attending doctor signs the death certificate. The cases with prevalence of drugs in the blood system are recorded statistically as drug related deaths.
This works very differently in all EU-countries. In some countries for example, the family can persuade the doctor to give heart attack as a cause of death instead of an overdose, when a son or a daughter passes away. Naturally this affects the statistics. The only thing the scientists working with drug related mortality agree on, is the fact that the statistics between countries cannot be compared. Regardless, it is being done all the time. I have been asked at least 10 times during the last year why Sweden has a higher drug related mortality than other EU countries.
The message: Sweden is not good at combating drug related death. The other countries are better. The ”explanation” for Sweden’s bad figures is to be found on page 61 (The annual report) in the chapter on injection rooms.
In some countries, supervised drug consumption facilities are available for drug users in open drug scenes who are at high overdose risk: such services exist in Germany, Spain and the Netherlands, and are being prepared in Luxembourg, Slovenia and Norway. If coverage is adequate, these rooms may help to reduce drug-related deaths at city level.
Not one word is said about the fact that UN’s drug control program has several times stated that injection rooms are a breach against UN Conventions on Drugs, and that these conventions came about explicitly to eliminate facilities of this kind.
What is equally bad is the lack of scientific proof of that these facilitates have any effect on drug related mortality.
Drug prevention is usually a non-political and harmless area where all can agree. It is a good thing if we can prevent young people from starting to use drugs.
The Annual report 2004 states:
The aim of drug prevention measures is to reduce the number of people who are initiated into substance use or, more often, to postpone drug use to a later age, thus at least reducing the scale of the drug problem.
The message: It is OK that we get more people who use drugs, as long as they don’t become problem users.
As a prevention method among others, pill testing is mentioned. This means that authorities stand outside clubs/discos and offer the young people to test their illegal drugs so that they know what they are getting into their systems.
The report says: Users inform their friends about the test results. This informal route of dissemination is considered a hidden advantage of pill testing: it widens the net of drug prevention and lowers the threshold for contact with preventative services. The study did not find any indication that pill testing stimulates ecstasy use or that it would widen the circle of ecstasy users.
That the Netherlands, where they have pill testing, had seven times as many young adults using ecstasy the last year compared to Sweden, where there instead are special units within the police with the task of counteracting this kind of drug abuse at the clubs, is not mentioned in the report.
The message: It is OK to use drugs as far as you know what you are using and you don’t die of overdose.
Treatment and problem drug use
The relatively new concept of problem users is excellent if you want to confuse everybody involved. The previous concept of drug abuse, defined in UN Conventions as all non-
medical use of narcotic drugs, is not good enough anymore. If there is a problem use, there must logically be a non-problematic use.
Problem drug use is defined operationally as ”injecting drug use or long duration/regular use of opiates, cocaine and/or amphetamines”
What is then defined as non-problematic use? Daily use of cannabis or marijuana? Daily use of GHB? Using ecstasy every weekend? Snorting cocaine at parties…
The problem abuse statistics look naturally better if you take away cannabis abuse. That 29 % of those who entered treatment in the Netherlands in 2002 stated that they had a cannabis problem, is not a problem. That they seek and receive treatment for something that is not considered a problem, is remarkable, to say the least.
Instead, the cannabis problem is described as follows in chapter 20:
A recent review of cannabis treatment demands conducted by the Dutch national alcohol and drugs information system (LADIS) noted that 29 % of new clients entering treatment in 2002 were reported as having cannabis problems and that cannabis clients represented a small yet annually increasing number of individuals. The report also noted that, given the scale of cannabis use in the Netherlands, the proportion of those seeking treatment although growing remained relatively small. (page 84)
Cannabis is the illegal drug most used in Europe, but only a small proportion of the people who have used the drug seek treatment.(page 84)
..daily cannabis use does not necessarily imply dependency.. (page 83)
The message is: It’s not that dangerous to smoke cannabis. The conception of ”use” instead of abuse, also undermines the definition of drug abuse, which according to the UN Conventions is all non-medical use of drugs.
Regarding substitution treatment, the most interesting part is maybe what is not mentioned. What is not referred to are the problems that arise when there is no alternative treatment to seek, that it in fact can be so that drug addicts are driven away from drug free treatments or that they get stuck in long-term medicine dependency which is at least as hard to get free from.
Regarding methadone, the report says (page 59):
There are regular reports from various EU countries about victims of drug-related death in whom methadone can be identified. Like any opiate, methadone is a potentially toxic substance, but research clearly shows that substitution treatment reduces the risk of overdose mortality among programme participants. Several studies have indicated that deaths in which methadone are implicated are more likely to be the result of illicit rather than prescribed use, and others have found a higher risk during the initial phases of methadone maintenance treatment. These findings suggest the need to to assure quality standards of substitution programmes.
Regarding subutex (page 53):
Finland reported significant seizures of Subutex in 2001 and 2002. To some extent this is not surprising, as buprenorphine prescribing has increased considerably in many countries. However, the drug is formulated to have a low abuse potential so these reports merit further
That 33 % of the 261 methadone patients participating a 9-year study in Sweden died, seems not to be worth mentioning. To be sure, many of them died of poisoning, accidents or suicide. That the Finnish police reports on subutex taking completely over heroin on the drug market in Helsinki, should, according to EMCDDA, be regarded very sceptically, because the drug is formulated to have a low abuse potential.
That research from among others the Childrens’ Hospital in Philadelphia shows that methadone stimulates HIV infection in human cells is also not mentioned.
The message: substitution treatment is good and you should be sceptical of criticism of it.
Laws and prohibitions
Under the heading National policies: evaluation of laws, considerable space is given to compare Sweden with Hungary. Among other things, it says (page 20)
In March 1999, the Hungarian Criminal Code was amended to make the use of drugs a criminal offence. However, subsequent scientific studies found that the aim of reducing the abuse, consumption and circulation of narcotic drugs was not achieved; the number of people trying drugs and the number of registered offences and offenders continued to rise. The study’s authors concluded that the punishments were too rigorous and failed to take account of the fact that young people become drug users not because they have a criminal nature but because of their circumstances. As a result, a new amendment, effectively reversing the changes and taking account of the study’s findings, was implemented on 1 March 2003.
In Sweden, in 2000, the National Council for Crime Prevention researched the effects of the
1988 regulation (strengthened in 1993) that made simple drug use an offence. It concluded that there were no clear indications that the criminalisation of drug use had a deterrent effect on young people.
Further down the page the centre rounds up it reasoning with a clear applause to the decriminalisation of drug consumption:
Yet the willingness to actually reverse a policy based on evaluation results, as had occured in Hungary, shows a new trust in evidence based research that has often been lacking.
The message is clear: Criminalisation of consumption doesn’t help.
I don’t know how the Hungarians conducted their survey, but I am quite familiar with the Swedish one. First of all it should be underlined that the Swedish report from the National Council for Crime Prevention is not a scientifically approved and published report. The conclusions drawn are political, not scientific. The report has been heavily criticized for being non-scientific and for its lack of method when gathering data. The report did not have any great impact in Sweden.
This New trust in evidence based research consequently must indicate that UN Conventions are incorrectly written. Prohibition doesn’t help, and therefore the logical consequence is that drugs should be decriminalised. It is not expressed outright, but the allusions are too many to be overlooked.
When the report 34 pages later deals with the chapter of heroin, it says that white heroin is cheapest in Hungary, 32 € per gram, and most expensive in Sweden, 213 € per gram. To safeguard, it says that ”the price differential is likely to reflect the purity of the drug being sold”. The degree of purity of heroin on street level in Sweden is some 20-25 %. The price of a capsule (0.2 gram), no matter the purity, has been the same in the past 30 years, namely some 271 € per gram. Whether the heroin in Hungary is 6 times weaker I have no means to know, but if you tried to sell so weak heroin in Sweden, you would probably be beaten to death, says the Head of the City of Stockholm Drug Squad.
The Netherlands get high praise for their fight against drug smugglers. The report says (page 48): ”..since early 2002 the Netherlands has taken radical measures to reduce the increasing flow of cocaine couriers travelling from the Caribbean to Schiphol Airport, and as a result the number of arrested cocaine couriers has decreased dramatically.”
It would seem fair in the context to explain that the campaign was a result of a scandal in the autumn of 2001, when the Haarlem Prosecution Department issued at letter of directions that all drug smugglers with less than 1 kilo cocain should be released after interrogation. In one case, a female courier was released after trying to smuggle 14 kilo cocain into the country.
What is the standard of police work if seizures of this magnitude are regarded as minor offences and dealt with accordingly?
Several times the EMCDDA report makes comparisons with USA, always to USA’s disadvantage. Why not compare with Japan? Japan has a very clear restrictive drug policy, and probably the least drug problems among industrialised states.
In 2001, 83 youths were arrested for drug offences in the whole of Japan. Only 0.8 % of Japan’s inhabitants have tested cannabis at some time. Nowhere in the world are there as few criminals in prisons per inhabitant as in Japan.
Obviously, you don’t want to make comparisons to disadvantage of a more liberal stance.
During the first half of 2004, 7 intravenous drug addicts were registered as HIV infected in Sweden. This low figure, in spite of that Sweden, as the report says, has not invested in the needle exchange programs.
The amount of young adults who used cannabis drug the past year was 1 % in Sweden and 11.8 % in the Netherlands. This in spite of, as the report earlier described, that Sweden has a prohibition against consumption which does not deter young people from using drugs.
The number of young adults who have used ecstasy was less than a half percent in Sweden and more 4 % in the UK.
The amount of 15-year old boys with heavy cannabis abuse, that is they smoked cannabis on more than 40 occasions during the past year, was 0.3 % in Sweden, and over 8 % in the UK. This in spite of Sweden’s restrictive line, and in spite of the fact that the UK declassified cannabis from grade B drug to grade C, with the result that an information campaign for 1 million € was necessary to tell the young people that possession of cannabis was still illegal.
The list could be made much longer. For a reader interested in text analysis, there is something to find on almost every page. However, it’s not the details but the overall message that is the most serious. Officially, EMCDDA says that they don’t take a standpoint. EMCDDA proposes to be non-political. However, every venture within the drug issue is political to some extent. To pretend to be non-political, and at the same keep publishing biased reports is nothing else than hidden propaganda.
An institution which shall serve all EU citizens regardless their drug political views must be neutral.
Therefore, EMCDDA should be profoundly reformed. If not, the centre should be closed down.
Thank you very much.