Despite its relatively modest size Oslo has a severe drug problem. Heroin abusers are a very visible part of our city’s social challenges.
Until 2002 the City of Oslo provided a coherent chain of services which met the clients’ needs at all stages. Now we have an organisational, structural and professional divide between the welfare and social system, provided by the City, and the state-run health system which gives medical and psychological treatment. Inefficiencies in the co-operation between the two systems inevitably will affect the clients’ situation negatively. But the situation is improving.
Despite the organisational disunity, we have managed to design a joint plan and methods for cooperation between a wide variety of agencies. Oslo’s social welfare system is well organised, has a highly educated staff and is big enough to meet the existing needs. It functions well in many areas. However, it is increasingly evident that the current system has been under-performing when it comes to drug prevention. We have been too preoccupied with those who already have an addiction. So I will first focus on what is being done about this, and then offer some thoughts on rehabilitation.
Administratively, the City of Oslo is divided into 15 autonomous local authorities, or districts. In every district we have established a cross-agency unit which aims at establishing contact with high-risk youth. These local units are called SALTO, which is an acronym for “together we build a safe Oslo”, and the preventive units have a central administration which reports to The Police Council. The Police Council is composed of the Chief City Commissioner, the Chief of Police, and other leaders both from the Police Force and from the City Civil Service. So we have established a chain of communication which stretches from people on the local level to the city leadership. This structure is showing encouraging results.
We are confronting the drug problem on an individual level, trying to nip substance abuse in the bud, so to speak. Through SALTO and through the Police Council we are incorporating all the relevant agencies in a coordinated effort to curb recruitment to the ranks of the abusers.
We are probably finding ourselves at the start of a paradigmatic change in our endeavour to combat drug abuse. The main thrust of our efforts will to an increasing degree be towards prevention.
In Oslo this is a constant debate and I think this discussion should be continued without reducing the existing services.
When it comes to rehabilitation, all contact with drug abusers must be conducted in a way which is respectful of their human dignity. We need to be able to offer both maintenance treatment and low-threshold medical services, and to the greatest possible degree medication-free treatment. Those who want help must be offered the type of help which has the greatest chance of improving their lives.
Oslo’s City Council strongly supports non-government supplements to the public social and welfare system. Voluntary organisations, value-oriented social networks and idealistic private citizens cooperate very productively with the professionals. In many cases these groups provide more effective and better services than their public counterparts, and in the future I hope to see an even greater contribution by non-government forces.
But for the City Council the main goal must be to prevent young people from embarking upon a drug career in the first place. In a long-term perspective it does little good to spend our resources on those at the end of their career as drug abusers. Social circumstances and individual tragedies will continuously produce and reproduce people who engage in self-destructive and anti-social activities. If we fail to prioritise the youngest individuals, the vicious circle will never be broken.
We as politicians should recognise the limitations as well as the strengths of public services, and encourage a broader public participation in social work. In modern Norway most people much more leisure time than earlier generations had. Thus we have human resources which today are not being drawn upon.
I believe a key to helping more at-risk youth in a better way is to mobilise civil society more efficiently through the institutions and organisations that we already have. By putting a stronger emphasis on prevention the results will perhaps be longer in coming. But such an approach will be better than our historic focus on treatment both economically, socially and morally.
Thank you for your attention!