Fred Nyberg: "It is not possible to evade the connection to drugs"

2022-01-03

In the dialogue about measures against gang crime, violence, mental health problems and suicide, it is not possible to evade the connection to drugs and drug addiction, writes Fred Nyberg, senior professor at Uppsala University.

Fred Nyberg, professor em. and initiator of U-FOLD
Fred Nyberg, professor em. and initiator of U-FOLD

That the constant newsfeed on climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic is repeatedly interrupted by reports on mental health problems, violence, shootings and brutal stabbings is something we are getting used to. Not one of us can have missed the strong connection between the latter elements and gang crime. Both the Swedish Government and Parliament provide considerable scope for proposals for measures to meet these challenges, but also to address the consequences of a significant deterioration in young people's mental health. But regarding this problem, it is important to acknowledge the influence of addictive drugs.

Proposals on how to deal with the emerging security crisis related to gang crime have reached the Parliament for some years now, and there is a consensus that measures must be taken to break this worrying development. In line with research conducted by The National Council for Crime Prevention, all political parties have the ambition to provide increased resources to the police for preventive purposes. Tougher legal measures for serious crimes are proposed by many, although it is unclear whether this can lead to a long-term solution. An important ingredient in the gang crime that occurs in Sweden today, however, is drugs. Often, the legal aspects are given more space than these addictive toxic substances.

Another problem that has shown difficult to solve and is frequently highlighted in media is the increased problems with mental health among children and young people. Among the reasons for this, the Swedish Public Health Agency has pointed out school related stress, shortcomings in the school's function as well as changes and new demands on the labor market. From an international perspective, worries and anxiety about climate change have been reported as major risks to young people's mental health. The link between mental health problems and the risk of becoming addicted to drugs has often evaded attention, despite the fact that a large proportion of young people who are treated at addiction clinics have several psychiatric diagnoses.

Numerous research confirms strong links between mental illness and a tendency to violence. A Swedish study of 15,000 criminals shows that almost half have been diagnosed with mental health problems. A recent report from The National Council for Crime Prevention states that four out of ten perpetrators had contact with psychiatry before the crime. Researchers have identified that people with mental illness are overrepresented among those who commit violent crimes. International reports report that membership in criminal gangs intensifies the underlying problems and increases the risk of depression and the prevalence of suicide in both thought and action. In Sweden, studies show that the risk of depression in teenagers and suicidal thoughts among young people has increased.

The fact that drugs often play a central role in suicide cannot have been missed by those working in forensic psychiatry. Partly as a means to carry out the action, but also as a reason why people end up in a life crisis. The historically well-known cases among American film actors who shortened their lives with barbiturates have now been followed by research reports that a not insignificant proportion of deaths from opioid overdoses can be related to suicide.

Measures against gang crime have been specified in the Government's 34-point program. Most of these points are focused on crime and increased penalties, some concern measures against mental health problems and exclusion. The National Board of Health and Welfare and The National Agency for Education have been commissioned to, within the framework of development work on coordinated initiatives for children and young people, focus on risk groups in socially vulnerable areas. A measure that aims to improve collaboration between Student health, Health care and Social services. Drugs and drug addiction are only marginally affected here.

All initiated and proposed measures are valuable, but more is needed. Today, people talk in legal contexts and also in the world of film and entertainment that it is not possible to evade certain people. In cases of measures against gang crime, violence, mental health problems and suicide, it is inevitable that it is not possible to evade drugs and drug addiction.

Fred Nyberg, senior professor
U-FOLD, Uppsala University
Fred.Nyberg@farmbio.uu.se

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Last modified: 2022-03-31