The War on People who Use Drugs: The Harms of Sweden's Aim for a Drug-Free Society, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The War on People who Use Drugs

The Harms of Sweden's Aim for a Drug-Free Society, 1st Edition

By Jay Levy


144 pages | 4 B/W Illus.

Purchasing Options:$ = USD
Hardback: 9781472487858
pub: 2017-07-26
eBook (VitalSource) : 9781315165431
pub: 2017-07-14
from $27.48

FREE Standard Shipping!


This book explores the outcomes of Sweden’s aim to create a ‘drug-free society’ on the lived realities, health, and welfare of people who use drugs, and on the dynamics of Swedish drug use. Drawing on a wealth of empirical data, including extensive interview testimony and participant observation from years of fieldwork conducted in Sweden, the book debunks the widely-believed myth that Sweden is a progressive, liberal, inclusive state. In contrast to its  liberal reputation, Sweden has criminalised the use of drugs and allows for compulsory treatment for those with drug dependencies. The work  argues that Swedish law and policy cannot be demonstrated to have decreased drug use as intended, with the law used instead as a means with which to displace people who use drugs from public spaces in Sweden’s cities. And where the law has failed in its ambition to decrease drug use, Swedish law and policy have increased and exacerbated the problems, dangers, and harms that can be associated with it. People who use drugs in Sweden experience considerable and endemic difficulties with health, violence, abuse, and social exclusion, stigma, and discrimination as a result of Sweden’s drug laws, policies, and discourses.

Table of Contents


List of Figures


Glossary, Acronyms, Abbreviations


Sweden: a Bastion of ‘Liberal’ Democracy?

Eugenics, Social Engineering, Sterilisations, Containment, and Control


The Foci of my Research

Moving into the People’s Home

Meeting Respondents

Interviews, Consent, and Confidentiality

Presentation of Research

A Brief (but Important) Note on Language

Overview of this Book

Chapter 1. Historical, Legal, Discursive Precedent

Moral Panic in the People’s Home: Racism, HIV/AIDS, and Drugs

The Commissions and Remiss Responses – Creating a Drug-Free Society

Criminalising Use

Compulsory Care

International Models – War on Drugs vs Drug Law Reform

Creating Consensus

The Roles of RNS, FMN, and RFHL in Achieving Consensus

Absence of Divergent Voices

Exclusions of Drug Users

Summary: Moral Panic, Consensus, and Silencing

Chapter 2. Reimagining Drugs (and People who Use Them)

Sending a Signal and Political Posturing

Drug Use as Disease, Drug Users as Vectors

Drug Users – Pathologisation and Infantilisation

Are All Drugs Bad?

Swedish Conflations

Some Drugs Better Than Others – Swedish National Drugs



Summary: Pathologisation and Demonisation of Drugs and People who Use Them

Chapter 3. Dynamics and Displacement of Swedish Drug Use

Which Drugs?

Levels of Drug Use

Levels of Alcohol Consumption

Spaces: Public Drug Scenes

Making Contact

A Displacement of Drug Dealing and of People who Use Drugs

Broader Projects of Displacement and Social Engineering

Summary: Drug Difficulties, Displacement, Containment, and Control

Chapter 4. Service Provision and Harm Reduction

Harm Reduction

The Need for Harm Reduction

Harm Reduction Strategies

Opposition to Harm Reduction

Needle and Syringe Programmes

Opposition to Needle and Syringe Programmes

Injection Paraphernalia Availability


Safer Drug Use

Information on Blood-Borne Infections

Opiate Substitution Therapy

Opposition to Substitution Therapy

Substitution Therapy Availability

The Malmö Model - A Second ‘Swedish Model’?

Summary: Variability of Services and Harm Exacerbation

Chapter 5. Experiences of Service and Healthcare Provision

Spatial Segregation

Social Services

Opiate Substitution Therapy

Gaining Access

Disciplining and Conditionality

High Threshold Substitution Therapy: Barriers to Seeking Assistance

Compulsory Treatment

Disseminating Dominant Discourse: Biopower, Geopower, Discipline

Summary: Conditionality and Discipline

Chapter 6. The Outcomes of Sweden’s War on People who Use Drugs

Impacts of the Criminalisation of Drug Use


Arrests and Fines

Disincentives to Seek Assistance: Losing Child Custody, Compulsory Care, Criminalisation

Results of ‘Harm Exacerbation’ Policies

High Threshold Methadone

Illegal Needles, Needle Sharing, and Needle Reusing

Blood Borne Infections

Ineligibility for Hepatitis C Treatment

People who Use Drugs and the Swedish Police and Security Forces

Good Intentions?

Difficulties in Reporting Crime


Summary: Exacerbated Harm, Danger, and Violence for People who Use Drugs

Conclusions. Harm Exacerbation, Social Exclusion, and Violence

Summary of Research: the Swedish Model of Drug Prohibition

Silencing; Pathologisation; Displacement

The Outcomes of Law and Policy: Service Provision, Harm Exacerbation, and Violence

Sweden’s ‘Drug-Free Society’: A Utopian Solution for all the World?

In Summary: Sweden’s War on People who Use Drugs

Bibliography of Works Cited


About the Author

Jay Levy’s work, writing, advocacy, fieldwork, and research interests include the outcomes of drug and sex work legislation and discourse; feminist, gender, and queer theory; harm reduction, HIV/AIDS, STI, and blood-borne infection policy and law. He has worked with the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF), as a consultant for the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), with the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) Secretariat, and as a supervisor for undergraduates at the University of Cambridge, where he completed his PhD at the Department of Geography. His first monograph, Criminalising the Purchase of Sex: Lessons from Sweden, was also published by Routledge.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LAW / General
LAW / Comparative
LAW / Criminal Law / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Criminology