Foreign - Monday 12.8.2002
Oslo - the new heroin capital of Europe
First official shooting gallery to open later this year
The Norwegian capital Oslo has a higher rate of deaths related to illegal drugs than any other European city. According to
Norwegian police figures, 115 people died of a drug overdose in Oslo last year. The total of drug-related deaths for all of
Norway was 338 last year.
With one drug-related death every 26 hours, drugs have become a greater killer in Norway than traffic accidents.
- The Oslo heroin scene is most conspicuous in the so-called Plata area on the side of the central railway station that is nearest to the sea.
Ambulances have visited the area every single day this year to rescue overdose victims.
In the area hundreds of heroin users at a time sit on the pavement, propping themselves up against the walls of the buildings.
Paramedics describe the scene as nightmarish.
Norwegian politicians have tried to bring the drug problem under control with the help of information campaigns, limited methadone
treatment programmes, and tough punishments.
In spite of it all, the number of drug addicts is growing constantly, and the most visible action has been the attempt to
get drug users off the streets.
- The park in front of the Royal Palace was a popular hangout for drug users already in the 1960s and '70s. Oslo city officials pushed them further
down the city's main street - Karl Johan.
The drug crowd regrouped around the Oslo Cathedral, causing considerable disturbances with their begging and petty crime.
Pushed away from there, the next drug scene hangout was the front of the main railway station, which was not to the liking
of the tourist industry, which likes to promote the country as one of healthy rosy-cheeked people in beautiful mountain landscapes.
Most recently the heroin scene has emerged in the area between the Oslo Stock Exchange and the site of the new opera. Both
politicians and volunteer groups have understood that simply evicting the junkies does nothing to solve the problem.
- In January, Norway's Parliament decided to authorise the establishment of Oslo's first official "shooting gallery" where heroin users would be allowed to
inject under supervised conditions.
The Ministry of Social Affairs is still studying the operating principles and rules of the facility, which is expected to
open sometime in the autumn.
Oslo's dark reputation as the city with Europe's worst drug scene might be improving somewhat: in the first half of this year
there were 31 drug deaths, down from 63 in the same period last year.
However, the improvement is not attributed to more successful policy, but rather to the temporary reduction in the opium production
of Afghanistan. With the resumption of more poppy cultivation, Norwegian police believe that more heroin will become available
During the past couple of weeks Norwegian customs have seized nearly 30 kilos of heroin. Oslo police estimate that about a
tonne of heroin is consumed in Norway each year. The total number of heroin users is estimated at 14,000, most of whom use
the drug intravenously.
- Police attribute the increase in the number of hard-core addicts in Norway to a change in attitudes. Norwegian youth have an increasingly casual attitude
toward illegal drugs, and are experimenting with them at a younger age.
Last year Norway's courts dealt with more than 800 drug cases involving defendants aged 15 to 17. This is up from just over
100 cases a year in the mid-1990s. According to a study conducted among schoolchildren, 28% of young people aged 15 to 20
had tried cannabis, and just under 10% had used harder drugs.
Drugs are sold fairly openly in the centre of Oslo. For instance, one hashish dealer estimates that he sells about 1,200 euros
worth of cannabis products a day.
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