July 13, 2024
It has been said that all history happens twice: first as a tragedy and then as a farce. But it’s hard to laugh when people are dying.

Sweden’s failed safer supply experiment offers a warning for Canada

Nearly 60 years ago, Sweden began prescribing free drugs to addicts — with disastrous results

Harm-reduction activists portray “safer supply” as an innovative addiction strategy, but it’s actually a stale and discredited concept. Both Sweden and the United Kingdom experimented with it roughly 60 years ago and saw catastrophic results, yet thanks to the incompetence of our political leaders, history is repeating itself in Canada today.

Safer supply refers to the practice of distributing free addictive drugs, typically through prescription, as an alternative to illicit substances. Proponents claim that this reduces overdoses and deaths, but my reporting over the past year has shown that these drugs are regularly resold on the black market and are causing new people to develop addictions, including youth.

While the Canadian debate over safer supply has focused on contemporary realities, I was contacted a few weeks ago by Staffan Huebinette, a researcher with the Swedish Drug Policy Centre, who informed me of the experiment’s dark (and rather obscure) history in Europe.

According to Huebinette, Sweden experimented with safer supply between 1965 and 1967, but cancelled the initiative when it became obvious that the distributed drugs were being diverted en masse and exacerbating the country’s addiction problems. After these drugs caused several high-profile overdose deaths, including that of a 17-year-old girl, public support for safer supply evaporated.

“People died from the prescribed drugs,” said Huebinette, who sees strong parallels between the experience in Sweden and Canada. ”That was a big thing at that time.”

Much of the literature on this history is written in Swedish, but Huebinette’s testimony is corroborated by a number of English-language sources — including a 1970 New York Times article, a 2007 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and a 2002 report produced by the Canadian Senate.

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Jack’s Note:  Prohibiting the issuance of addictive drugs to confirmed junkies is not rocket science.