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Smørrebrød or Smörgåsbord: the Danish and Swedish drug users unions: contexts, aims, activities, achievements

Mikael Johansson (Skania Drug Users Union, Lund, Sweden)
Jørgen Kjær (BrugerForeningen, Copenhagen, Denmark)
Blaine Stothard (Prevention Specialist, Blaine Stothard Consultancy, London, UK)

Drugs and Alcohol Today

ISSN: 1745-9265

Article publication date: 2 March 2015




The purpose of this paper is to first, inform readers of the roles, activities and contexts of drug users unions in Denmark and Sweden. Second, to show the achievements and impacts of the two. Third, to illustrate the differing social and political situations in the two countries and how they determine the priorities and activity of the unions.


The paper is written by a UK commentator who bases the text on meetings, interviews and conversations with members and representatives of the two unions. Spokespersons for both unions have contributed to, commented on and clarified draft texts and provided contextual papers and information.


The two unions have differing roles and levels of acceptance and influence according to the political and legal situations in the two countries. There are differing situations and needs in Denmark and Sweden, reflected in the levels of drug-related deaths. There is no “Scandinavian” model. In Denmark the users union is involved in high-level discussions on policy making and practice. In Sweden the new unions are starting to be involved in local discussions about provision and practice.

Research limitations/implications

Danish experience shows how political acceptance of the existence of a drug using population is leading to improved health and well-being amongst that population, and to social policy responses which are inclusive of this and other marginalised groups, and to a reduction of stigma and demonisation. Swedish experience differs and can be seen as essentially prohibitionist and punitive. Many Swedish drug users are moving to Denmark because of the levels of service and social attitudes. It may be of interest to UK policy to adopt a similar approach to drug users organisations – as distinct from service users’ voices.

Practical implications

Strengthening the role of drug users unions in all countries and including them in national policy making discussion and debate.

Social implications

Accepting the existence and needs of drug using groups in society and developing responses informed by their views and experience. Adopting inclusive social policies and recognising the variety of need and choices in treatment. Combatting stigma and demonisation.


The paper is based on extensive interviews and conversations whose results and content are recorded, not interpreted. The Danish work was conducted in Danish, adding to the number of voices and conversations it was possible to include. A distinction between policy and practice in Denmark and Sweden is established which may run counter to UK impressions of “Scandinavian” rather than national realities.



Johansson, M., Kjær, J. and Stothard, B. (2015), "Smørrebrød or Smörgåsbord: the Danish and Swedish drug users unions: contexts, aims, activities, achievements", Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 15 No. 1, pp. 38-48.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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