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Nils Bejerot was born 1921 in Norrtälje, Stockholm. His father worked as a bank teller at the local Upland Bank office. Not an avid student, he was more interested in scouting. In 1936 the family moved to Östhammar after his father was assigned to another bank office. At the age of 15, Berjerot was found to have bleeding in the lungs due to tuberculosis and was admitted to a sanatorium for a total of three years. However, Bejerot described this time as a happy period in his life. The mood among the patients was good, despite the fact that approximately 1 / 3 part of them died. During his time in sanatoriums he met people of different ages with different experiences, and the discussions they had he later claimed encouraged him to study and become involved in political activity, becoming a member of the Communist Party and other Socialist-affiliated organizations. When he started to study medicine in 1947 his social and political commitments made him a slow student.
In 1952-54, Bejerot served as assistant at the Karolinska Institute hygienic institution after finishing basic medical education at Karolinska Institute. In the same period he wrote his book against the violence in comic books.
In 1954 while Bejerot is serving as deputy social medical officer at the Child and Youth Welfare Board of the City of Stockholm, Bejerot became, by coincidence, the first to diagnose and report a case of juvenile intravenous drug abuse by any public authority in Europe.
In 1956 Nikita Khrushchev's secret speech at the 20th Party Congress led Bejerot to question the whole communist system; the illusion of the glorious future of communism was definitely shattered when the Soviet Union invaded Hungary, causing Bejerot to quit all activities in politics and focus on the study of medicine.
In 1957 Bejerot received a medical degree from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
From 1958 onwards, Bejerot worked as consulting psychiatrist to the Stockholm Police Department, and from 1965 as consulting physician to the Stockholm Remand Prison. His patients in that work was people put in custody by the police, many of them alcoholics or drug addicts from Stockholm City. Later he became Research Fellow in drug dependence at the Swedish National Medical Research Council, and then a reader in Social Medicine at the Karolinska Institute.
In 1965 Bejerot started to engage in the Swedish debate on drug abuse, encouraging tough action against the new and rapidly growing problem. He followed closely a rather clumsy experiment with legal prescription of heroin, amphetamine, etc. to drug addicts, studies that formed the basis for his thesis on the epidemic drug spread. Bejerot claimed that the program should increase the number of drug addicts and showed through counting of injection marks that the number of drug addicts in Stockholm continued to grow fast during the experiment. The program was stopped in 1968.
The concept epidemic drug use was probably inspired by the contemporary debate in Britain. A large government study in the UK, the second Brain Report (1965), described drug addiction as a "socially infectious condition". The second Brain report recommended the establishment of special treatment centers where heroin addicts could be isolated from the community and treated. Bejerot had studied epidemiology in London in 1963. From 1968 and onward was the difference between the epidemic type, the therapeutic type and the endemic type of drug abuse a repeated issue in Bejerot's writing and lectures.
In 1969 Bejerot became one of the founders of the Association for a Drug-Free Society (RNS), which played - and still play - an important role in shaping Swedish drug policies. RNS don't accept any of the state grants which are available. Bejerot warned of the consequences of an ‘epidemic addiction’, prompted by young, psychologically and socially unstable persons who, usually after direct personal initiation from another drug abuser, begin to use socially nonaccepted, intoxicating drugs to gain euphoria.
In 1972 Bejerots' reports were used as one of the reasons for increasing the maximum penalty for grave drug offences in Sweden to 10 years in prison.
In 1974 he was called to testify as one of 21 scientific experts on marijuana for a subcommittee of the United States Senate on the marijuana-hashish epidemic and its impact on United States security.
In 1979 Bejerot received an honorary title of professor, an honor that the Swedish government usually awards to only a few people a year.
His research covered such wide areas as the epidemiology of drug abuse, the dynamics of drug dependence and the anomalies of public welfare policy. Bejerot gave an extensive number of lectures in many parts of Sweden. For 30 years he lobbied intensively for zero tolerance, including possession and use of cannabis. He published about 600 papers and debate articles in different media, and published more than 10 books about the subject. In total he had about 100,000 participants of his 2-day courses. For many years he held lectures at ‘’Polishögskolan’’ (The Swedish Police College) about drug abuse, mental problems and negotiation skills. He was teacher for almost every Swedish police officer, which gave him the epithet ‘’polisdoktorn ‘’ (The police doctor).
Bejerots theories about spread of drug abuse and proposals for an anti-drug policy have still a significant influence on the drug policy of Sweden. When R. Gil Kerlikowske the Director of National Drug Control Policy in May 2012 announced an updated version of U.S. President Barack Obama's administration's drug policy he referred to what happened in the experiment with legal prescription of drugs in 1965 that was studied by Bejerot in his doctor thesis.
He is best known for several things:
- His role as a psychiatric adviser during the 1973 Norrmalmstorg robbery, and his coinage of the term Stockholm Syndrome to refer to the way in which the hostages become grateful to the hostage-takers . The term 'Stockholm Syndrome' has been used on millions of Internet pages.
- His strong opposition to legalization or prescription programs for narcotic drugs. He advocated zero tolerance for illegal use and possession of drugs, including all drugs not covered by prescription, something that today is law in Sweden. In the early 1980s, he became one of the "Top 10 opinion molders" in Sweden for this. Bejerot is by UNODC and many others recognized as founder of the Swedish strategy against recreational use of drugs. His demand for zero tolerance as a drug policy was for a long time seen as extreme, but during the late 1970s opinion changed. He is without doubt the person most responsible for changing the Swedish drug policy in a restrictive direction something that made him a controversial person, both before and after his death. Many people considered Bejerot as a good humanist advocating a viable policy against narcotics and Robert DuPont considers him "the hero of the Swedish drug abuse story." Others view this as a reactionary hindering of new treatment practices against drug abuse.
- His strong opposition against violence in comic books, which was the subject of his 1954 book Barn, serie, samhälle (Children, Comics, Society), itself largely an adaptation of Fredric Wertham's book Seduction of the Innocent, also published in 1954. He did not come back to this topic in his later books.
Bejerot on factors that increase the risk of abuse
Before Bejerot began to participate in the debate on drugs in 1965, it was the dominant view in Sweden that drug abuse was a private health problem and that law enforcement measures should be aimed at drug dealers. Before 1968, the maximum offence for a grave drug crime was one year in prison. Bejerot objected to this and stressed the importance of measures against the demand for drugs, against users, and their importance in the spread of addiction to new addicts.
Bejerot did not accept unemployment and poor private economy as explanations for increased use of illegal drugs. He pointed out, that alcohol abuse in the 1930s was comparatively limited in Sweden, despite high unemployment and economic depression.
Nils Bejerot stressed five main factors that cause increased risk of an individual of becoming a drug abuser:
- Availability of the addictive substance
- Money to acquire the substance
- Time to use the substance
- Example of use of the substance in the immediate environment
- A permissive ideology in relation to the use of the substance.
Bejerot advanced the hypothesis that when addiction supervenes it is no longer a symptom but a morbid condition of its own. In the abuse stage one can willfully control their consumption and intoxicating themselves at will, but eventually - depending the product's addictive qualities, the dosage, the intensity of the abuse, individual factors etc. - the drug abuse can turn into drug dependency, the drug use receive the strength of an instinct. Then its development will not be affected by removal of the initiating factors, the drug dependency has the strength and character of a natural drive, even though it is artificially-induced.
He compared addiction with a very deep love, writing that addiction is "an emotional fixation (sentiment) acquired through learning, which intermittently or continually expresses itself in purposeful, stereotyped behavior with the character and force of a natural drive, aiming at a specific pleasure or the avoidance of a specific discomfort."
This would however not mean that drug addiction was impossible to treat. The abuse was learned, hence it is also possible to relearn, how to live without drugs, and treatment of drug addicts should have a drug-free goal, differing with others who aimed at reduction of adverse effects, also known as harm reduction. Bejerot thus criticized programs of long methadone treatment of opiate users in programs that were not aimed at drug freedom.
- Alfred R. Lindesmith
- Drug policy of Sweden
- Stockholm syndrome
- War on drugs
- Zero tolerance
- Harm reduction
- Nils Bejerot: The six day war in Stockholm
- Nils Bejerot — forskaren, folkupplysaren, pionjären i kampen mot narkotikan, 1993 (A collection of essays about Nils Bejerot written by different authors after Nils Bejerots death, for ex the secretary of The Nobel price committee, collected by Carol Bejerot)
- Marihuana-hashish epidemic and its impact on United States security: hearings before the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, Ninety-third Congress, second session [-Ninety-fourth Congress, first session] .. (1974), page 170-
- Nils Bejerot: The Swedish addiction epidemic in a global perspective, a speech given in 1988 in France, the Soviet Union and USA.
- The Swedish Drug Control System
- Rachel Lart British Medical perception from Rolleston to brain, changing images of the addict and addiction
- DRUG ADDICTION, MINISTRY OF HEALTH, London, 1965
- About RNS
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime: Sweden’s successful drug policy: a review of the evidence
- The Swedish National Association for a Drug-free Society (RNS)
- Reed Irvine: THE MEDIA AS DRUG PROMOTERS, AIM Report January 1986
- Drug Abuse and Drug Policy. An epidemiological and methodological study of drug abuse of intravenous type in the Stockholm police arrest population 1965–1970 in relation to changes in drug policy. 277 s. Munksgaard, Köpenhamn, 1975.
- Nils Bejerot. Video from a lecture about addition.
- About Nils Bejerot (written by his admirers)
- Principles of modern Drug policy, Statement of the Government of America, World Federation against drugs 3rd Forum, Stockholm, May 21 2012
- Nils Bejerot: The six day war in Stockholm,New Scientist 1974, volume 61, number 886, page 486-487
- Majsan Boström: The Stockholm Syndrome, Sveriges Radio International, 2009
- Socialstyrelsen. Säkerställd socialmedicinsk kompetens inom svensk hälso- och sjukvård, 2005, page 117
- C. M. Chatwin: On the Possibility of Policy Harmonisation for some Illicit Drugs in Selected Member States of the European Union
- Presentation at the World Forum Against Drugs (WFAD)Stockholm, Sweden September 8, 2008 by Robert L. DuPont, M.D.
- New York Times: Nils Bejerot, 67, Pioneer in Study of Drug Abuse, 1988
- Noel Pearson: Agendas of addiction. The Australian, March 1, 2008
- Bejerot; Nordisk Medicin 7. I. 1971, bd 85, nr 1
- Nils Bejerot in Theories of Drug abuse, Selected contemporary perspectives, page 246-255, NIDA, 1980
- http://www.nilsbejerot.se/om.htm - official webpage, including full text of many of his books