Needle and syringe exchange programmes should be introduced across the country, to reduce the growing risk of hepatitis C, Sweden’s Public Health Agency (Folkhälsomyndigheten) writes in a new report.

The agency argues that drug addicts need better access to both clean syringes and needles.

Needle exchange schemes provide this equipment as well as swabs and sterile water, to reduce the risk of users coming into contact with others’ infected blood, by sharing kit.

Around 800 people a year currently contract hepatitis C in Sweden as a result of dirty needles or syringes.

Sweden’s Public Health Agency is also calling for improved counselling, drug testing and vaccination services.

“When you build up a trusting relationship and demonstrate the equal right to good health care, this increases the chances that those people may also get…help to manage or eventually to emerge from a drug addiction” said Johan Carlson, Director General of Sweden’s Public Health Agency in a statement on Wednesday.

Similar schemes are already commonplace in many other European countries. Italy has the most – more than 300,000 – with the United Kingdom, Germany and France also offering a large number of programmes. In Copenhagen, drug addicts can shoot up without fear of prosecution in legal injection rooms in the city, which provide sterile equipment.

“Syringe exchange activities, providing access to safe injection equipment, is central to reducing the risk of spreading infection. There is overwhelming scientific evidence for this,” said Carlsson.

Exchange programmes are already in place in Stockholm and Malmö but Gothenburg’s politicians are resistant to the idea and there are currently few schemes available for drug addicts in Sweden’s smaller towns and cities.

It is up to local and regional municipalities to decide whether or not to follow the agency’s advice introduce needle swap systems.

Approximately 8,000 people inject drugs in Sweden, according to national statistics body Statistics Sweden. The median age for starting to take drugs among that group is 14 or 15.

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