Drugs and Guns in Sweden

Gang leader shot, while youth continued playing football nearby. Policeman murdered on an open street.

Drugs and guns in Sweden — there is so much money linked to drug trafficking that those who earn see no problem in killing too. In June 2021 a policeman was shot dead on an open street in Gothenburg, while he spoke to some local youth. It seems he was not the intended target, but the drive by shooters — most likely young men who are involved in the sale of drugs in the area — are not very clever people. Then a 25 year old man was shot in the head and died in Flemingsberg in southern Stockholm — I used to live there. It has become so regular an occurrence in this country.

One police officer from northern Stockholm recently stated, “We see that there are far too many children who handle drugs and weapons for older criminals. But we must also be aware that the older criminals are often also children aged 16–17”. The money and excitement, as well as the pleasure of drugs are seducing a generation of already marginalized youth into a desperate violent struggle to control a business that has its origins far from the projects of Stockholm and Malmö. As police researcher Magnusson writes “In drug crimes, money is an important element. Drug trafficking is based on a market with calculated interactions among market participants, which has similarities with legal markets. As the property rights in this market are not protected by the police and the actors cannot use the court system, often violence is used instead to settle conflicts (Poret & Téjédo, 2006)” (Magnusson 2020, p. 320). These unregulated conflicts around an enormous market are costing dozens of lives. These casualties can be added to the hundreds that die as a result of corrupt products produced by a corrupt market.

The Gang was managed like a business — with incentive bonuses, holiday and sickness benefits and a ‘kick off’ at a ski resort. Of course young people are going to get into it, with a better employment than the gig economy can offer.

I lost a friend in 2019 to gun violence — shot 19 times from an AK47 by ‘mistake’. But why and how can something be done to stop this insane slaughter? I suggest those in power look into the drug trade and how it can be neutralized in order to stop this madness. The annual turnover of drugs in Sweden is estimated at between SEK 2.7 and 6.9 billion during the period 2015–2019. That is A-N-N-U-A-L — so every year that is how much money is flowing into the pockets of the guys that are shooting each other, and also killing and maiming many other innocent victims.

The scene in Flemingsberg today

In 2020 Sweden with a population of 10.3 million people recorded more than 360 incidents involving guns, including 47 deaths and 117 people injured. In 2021 there was a total of 330 shootings in Sweden and 44 people died as a result, with many more maimed. As of the 15th November 2022, according to national Swedish police statistics, there has been a total of 360 shootings for the year, with 57 fatalities and 98 people wounded. A report from 2021 said Sweden was the only European country where fatal shootings had risen significantly since 2000, going from one of the lowest rates of gun violence on the continent to one of the highest in less than a decade.

However in 2020 Sweden also achieved the horrific position of having the highest proportions of drug-related deaths in the entire European Union, with 81 cases per 1 million citizens, which is nearly four times higher than the EU average (which can be compared to Portugal with 4 drug deaths per million), according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

Back in 2019, a total of 894 deaths occurred from medication and drug poisoning among residents aged 15 and older in Sweden, which corresponds to 11 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. Mortality was most common in the age group 30–44 years. This is a rate that is four times higher than the EU average (including the UK which is second highest — the two European countries that follow the United States model closest).

The EMCDDA figures for “Drug-induced mortality rates among adults (15–64)” show a rate of 3.09 cases per 100,000 population for Sweden in 2006, rising steadily to 6.97 per 100,000 in 2013, worsening from the ninth to the second highest rate of any country in Europe over that time. This means the death rate has almost doubled between 2013 and 2019.

Way back in 2010 the staggering total of around 16,000 people died in Sweden from over-dosage of Oxicodin alone (that is 0.17% of the population then):

In 2020, around 124,000 drug offences were reported against the Swedish Penal Code. Between 2011 and 2021 the number of reports increased by 39 percent. Until 2013, they increased steadily, and then decreased until 2016. Then they increased again until 2020. The increase in arrests and convictions is mainly for possession, which had increased by 87 percent when compared to 2011.

Drug offences belong to the crime categories in Sweden where the number of reported offences is mainly a result of the police’s reconnaissance and intervention activities. In other words “Stop and Search”. The more the police look the more they find in a cycle of mutual dependence. No real effort is being made to dismantle the drug economy, only to punish the users.

The idea that drug policy has failed in Sweden and this failure is represented in outrageous gang related crime is further supported by a recent report by Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brottsförebyggande rådet or Brå for short). A commentary published by the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper argues that “The report therefore emphasizes that drug policy has been quite unsuccessful. Drugs will be a driving force for gangs and yet we will continue with a drug policy that basically works with the same toolbox as before.” This toolbox has gotten Sweden into the situation that it is currently trying to escape from.

Meanwhile, the debate around gun related deaths rages in the Swedish media and between the political parties. But there is a clear link between gun related murders and the drug economy. For example in 2020’s Operation Rimfrost police took 300 weapons and over 300 kgs of drugs (Socialdemokraterna 2020), showing there is a clear connection between the two. But still nothing is done to disconnect them or decrease the economic incentives that exist regarding the enormous drug trade that exists in Sweden today and how far too many people die because of it.

As I write the present Swedish government has collapsed following a vote of no confidence in the Parliament. It is the first time this has happened in Sweden. There could be an election in September. In the speeches made prior to the vote several party leaders referenced “gang criminals” and “gun violence” as priorities for any government of Sweden. But real structural change that could improve the lives of many people remains absent. This change is not just for the damaged lives and well being of drug users, but the thousands of families, friends and loved ones that go through the chaos and loss that result from the present mismanagement and fatalities from overdoses to shootings.

It is now April 2022 and nothing has changed since the shooting in Flemingsberg in July 2021. Ted Esplund from the National Operations Department’s intelligence unit says “Despite the fact that many leading criminals have been sentenced to long sentences in recent years, the shootings continue, often due to conflicts over drugs”.

For the national election that is due in Sweden on 11 September 2022, the political parties are generally against any sort of reform that would cripple the violent market for cannabis that exists in Sweden. The Social Democrats are strongly opposed to the legalization of drugs. In the Moderates’ party programme, they emphasize that they stand for “a restrictive drug policy with a focus on prevention”. The Christian Democrats lean strongly towards a drug-free society. However, nothing specific about cannabis can be found, but they clearly point out in the party program that they are working to stop all kinds of tendencies towards drug liberalization. The Left Party and Nooshi Dadgostar take a different position when it comes to drug use. In their party programme, they write that drug use was criminalized in 1988, something they as a party consider to be wrong. They want the use of drugs to be decriminalized, which would then mean that it would no longer be illegal to be under the influence of drugs.

The Center Party takes a strong stance against the legalization of cannabis and other narcotic drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Even the Liberals want to see that the harshest punishments are directed at the smugglers, manufacturers and dealers — at the same time that the Swedish drug policy must be built on a zero vision against everything drug-related. The Green Party’s Per Bolund and Märta Stenevi’s views on cannabis are not specifically written out in their party program, but their view on the work against drugs is that society should work to counteract both the sale and distribution of illegale drugs. The Sweden Democrats and Jimmie Åkesson want to introduce mandatory drug tests in school. The Sweden Democrats want to see tougher penalties for sales, smuggling and give supervisory authorities more resources to control dispensing.

Evidence based policing “as a means of improving the effectiveness of drug-market policing” has been raised in the research. With the government of Sweden moving further to the right following the 2022 September election, there seems to be little chance of that happening any time soon.



Freelance scholar. Humanist. Interested in language, culture, music, technology, design & philosophy. I like Literature & Critical Theory. Traveler. I am mine.

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James Barrett

Freelance scholar. Humanist. Interested in language, culture, music, technology, design & philosophy. I like Literature & Critical Theory. Traveler. I am mine.