Sweden Country Drug Report 2018

Drug use

Prevalence and trends

Cannabis remains the illicit substance most commonly used in Sweden, even though lifetime prevalence of cannabis use among the general population aged 16-64 years remains low in comparison with other European countries. The data indicate that cannabis use is concentrated among young adults, in particular those aged 16-24 years. The long-term trend analysis shows a slight increase in last-year cannabis use over the past decade among 16- to 34-years-olds. In general, cannabis use is more common among males than females. Moreover, the use of cannabis is more common among those living in larger cities and those with a lower personal income.

Stockholm participates in the Europe-wide annual wastewater campaigns undertaken by the Sewage Analysis Core Group Europe (SCORE). This study provides data on drug use at a municipal level, based on the levels of illicit drugs and their metabolites found in wastewater. These data complement the results from population surveys; however, wastewater analysis reports on collective consumption of pure substances within a community, and the results are not directly comparable with prevalence estimates from population surveys. The available data on stimulant drugs from Stockholm indicate weekly consumption patterns. The loads of the main cocaine metabolite (benzoylecgonine) and MDMA/ecstasy found in wastewater in 2016 were higher at weekends than on weekdays, whereas methamphetamine traces were found to be distributed more evenly throughout the week.

The most recent data on drug use among students comes from an annual school-based, teacher-monitored survey among a nationally representative sample of students in 9th-grade and 11th- grade conducted by the Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs (CAN). In 2016, 4.6 % of boys and 4.3 % of girls in 9th grade and 19.8 % of boys and 12.9 % of girls in 11th grade reported having ever used cannabis. The proportions have been fluctuating, making it difficult to describe changes over time.

Data from the 2015 European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drug (ESPAD) show that lifetime use of cannabis among school students in Sweden is less than half of the European average (based on data from 35 countries). Lifetime use of tranquillisers or sedatives without prescription, lifetime use of inhalants and lifetime use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) in Sweden were approximately the same as the ESPAD averages, whereas alcohol use during the last 30 days and heavy episodic drinking during the same period were markedly lower. Swedish students were also less likely to report cigarette use during the last 30 days. The data also point to a slight decrease in NPS use among this group compared with 2011.

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High-risk drug use and trends

Studies reporting estimates of high-risk drug use can help to identify the extent of the more entrenched drug use problems, while data on first-time entrants to specialised drug treatment centres, when considered alongside other indicators, can inform an understanding of the nature of and trends in high-risk drug use.

A 2011 study estimated that there were 8 000 people who inject drugs (PWID) in Sweden, and that most of them used opioids and/or amphetamine. There is no national estimate on the prevalence of high-risk drug use by substance.

Data from drug treatment providers indicate that opioids and stimulants also remained important among first-time clients entering treatment in 2016, while, based on available data, cannabis has been the most frequently reported primary drug among new treatment entrants since 2010. Approximately 3 out of 10 treatment clients in Sweden are female; however, the proportion of females in treatment varies by type of primary drug and programme.

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Methodological note: Analysis of trends is based only on those countries providing sufficient data to describe changes over the period specified. The reader should also be aware that monitoring patterns and trends in a hidden and stigmatised behaviour like drug use is both practically and methodologically challenging. For this reason, multiple sources of data are used for the purposes of analysis in this report. Caution is therefore required in interpretation, in particular when countries are compared on any single measure. Detailed information on methodology and caveats and comments on the limitations in the information set available can be found in the EMCDDA Statistical Bulletin.