Police officers' attitudes and practices toward harm reduction services in Sweden - a qualitative study

Int J Drug Policy. 2022 Jun:104:103672. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2022.103672. Epub 2022 Apr 9.


Background: Since the 1980s, Swedish drug policy has combined a restrictive zero tolerance approach with the vision of a "drug-free society". However, in recent years, access to harm reduction services has increased through local initiatives and new national guidelines. The possible success of these services may be affected in part by police drug law enforcement. The aim of this study was to explore how Swedish police officers act toward and view harm reduction services in a national drug policy setting of zero tolerance toward drug use.

Methods: Applying a qualitative research design, we conducted 19 in-depth interviews with police officers who worked with drug law enforcement in Malmö. We conducted a qualitative textual analysis of the data.

Results: Officers largely supported harm reduction services and refrained from overtly enforcing drug laws in their vicinity. Officers engaged in boundary work that assigned the responsibility of care of marginalized people who use drugs (PWUD) to the health care system, while including policing of drug market problems, young PWUD and dealers in their own jurisdiction. Opioid substitution treatment was seen as positive, although diversion of medicines was pointed out as a problem. Needle exchange programs were seen as offering important public health services and a no-go zone for the police. Several officers wanted to carry naloxone on duty but requested more information about its use.

Conclusion: The general support among police officers for harm reduction services is an indication of a changing drug policy landscape in Sweden. Drug policy should take police officers' views into consideration and there is a need for collaboration between police and harm reduction services. Further research should focus on how the police conduct boundary work since police actions may impact on the success of harm reduction services.

Keywords: Drug law enforcement; Harm reduction; Health care; Naloxone; Needle exchange program; Opioid substitution treatment; People who use drugs; Policing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude
  • Harm Reduction*
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement
  • Police*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sweden