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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Free heroin proposal sparks protests

A proposal to use heroin in a controlled setting for attempted rehabilitation of hard-core Norwegian drug abusers was generating plenty of debate on Wednesday. Some politicians equated it to making the problem the solution.

Labour Party veteran Thorvald Stoltenberg led the commission charged with reforming current drug treatment programs. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

“You don’t give free liquor to alcoholics,” contended Anniken Hauglie, a member of the Oslo city government from the Conservative Party. “And you don’t give free cigarettes to people with lung disease.”

But a government commission led by Thorvald Stoltenberg, a former Foreign Minister and father of both Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and a daughter who’s struggled with drug addiction, thinks it’s time to “try something new.” The elder Stoltenberg, a longtime Labour Party politician and diplomat, delivered his commission’s conclusions to Labour’s Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen on Wednesday.

The commission members’ report contains 22 points that they think will make life easier for drug addicts in Norway who haven’t been helped by other rehabilitation programs. Most politicians agree that the programs aren’t good enough or extensive enough, but that’s where the agreement ends. Only five of the nine members on the commission voted in favor of giving heroin to addicts.

One psychiatrist claimed Thorvald Stoltenberg has a personal conflict of interest because of his daughter Ninni’s history of addiction. She is the sister of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and has been active in the narcotics debate in recent years.

Thorvald Stoltenberg readily admitted he has “an enormous personal interest” in drug addiction and was surprised when Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) presented him with psychiatrist Dag Furuholmen’s conflict of interest charge.

“I haven’t evaluated any inability to deal with this,” he told NRK. “I have lived my life with her (his daughter) and her situation, and my engagement is inspired by her.”

He acknowledged that it’s been through his daughter and her acquaintances that he’s become aware of all the people who need help. “I’m not ashamed of that,” he said.

Furuholmen also criticized the commission members’ “low level” of professional experience with drug abusers (called narkomaner in Norwegian). Strøm-Erichsen, who is taking the commission’s report under advisement, said the professionals will have ample opportunity to comment on it.

Justice Minister Knut Storberget, also of the Labour Party, said he was “open” to the Stoltenberg’s proposal to use heroin in treatment of addicts. “We must dare to think about alternatives (to current rehab programs),” Storberget told NRK. 

The commission also recommended state reception centers for drug addicts, quicker treatment, removal of co-pay requirements for treatment and more consistent follow-up care of addicts.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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