Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Drugs in Denmark

When it comes to drugs, Denmark’s approach is inconsistent. Getting illegal drugs doesn’t seem to be too difficult, but getting legal drugs can be.

Hashish, which is illegal in Denmark, was until recently easy to procure at “Pusher Street”, in the so-called Free State of Christiania in Copenhagen. Christiania is one of the tourist attractions of Copenhagen.

This old military base, which was taken over by hippies during the 1970s, is a unique place, with dirt roads and ramshackle wooden buildings put together with odds and ends and some gorgeous wild nature which is surprising to find in the middle of a European capital city.

Pusher Street was a row of wooden booths where until recently buyers could choose from a selection of hashish being sold openly, although the dealers would smash your camera if you tried to take a picture of it.

It’s been shut down again and again in the past, usually after violent incidents, but it always risen up again. The truth is many Copenhageners like the fact that hashish dealing is centralized in one place. They don’t want the dealers and customers coming to *their* neighborhoods.

Snowflake doesn’t mean winter weather

Anyway, much of the drug dealing in Denmark today doesn’t take place on Pusher Street, it takes place via smartphones like everything else. Via text messages, or on apps that are popular with young people, like Snapchat.

When someone has a snowflake emoji next to their Snapchat profile image, it doesn’t mean that they like winter weather.

Prescription drugs aren’t given freely

Legal prescription drugs are a different category entirely. While doctors’ visits are free if you are covered under the Danish public health system, prescription drugs are not, and you will have to pay something out of pocket for them, although not as much as you might have to pay in the US, for example.

However, many internationals have noticed that Danish doctors are not as free with prescriptions as doctors might be in their home countries.

For example, it is a perennial complaint of internationals that Danish doctors are reluctant prescribe antibiotics. This is because they are concerned about the development of antibiotic resistance.

Danish doctors will provide antibiotics for bacterial infections, but not for flu or other viral illnesses or just random things people want them for.

I have seen some internationals take this the wrong way and get very angry. One woman told me that because she was “just a refugee”, her Danish doctor wouldn’t give her the “good drugs”.

Don’t have it shipped

Sleep medication is another drug that can be difficult to get in Denmark, where even melatonin requires a prescription. If you can get prescription sleeping pills at all, they will be prescribed to you in very limited amounts, like two weeks, and the doctor will monitor your use of them. Repeat prescriptions can be very difficult to get. The Danes feel that you should address the underlying cause of your sleep problems instead of taking a pill.

Now, you might think you could simply this order this stuff from abroad, or have a friend send it to you.

That would be a mistake. The Danish customs team is quite effective at finding medicine shipped in packages and envelopes, even from the EU. You will get a fine, a fine big enough to disrupt your application for permanent residency and citizenship if you get that far.

If you’re traveling to Denmark, you can bring in prescription medicine for personal use, and you can also usually bring in the kind of over-the-counter medicines that are sold in your home country, in minor amounts of course.

Maybe your mom always used to give you some non-prescription concoction when you had a bad cold or a flu. You can probably bring a limited amount with you in your suitcase without running into problems.

Selling expensive pharma to other people

I won’t get into cases of people who move to Denmark and rely on a specific prescription drug. Sometimes you can get it here, sometimes you can’t, and sometimes you will be fobbed off with a cheaper generic version. It all depends on your luck, your doctor, and what the Danish health authorities have approved.

It’s a publicly funded system, so they do their best to avoid expensive pharma. (Here’s where I note that much of Denmark’s prosperity is built on the sales of expensive pharma to other countries.)

But in general, the Danish point of view is, the fewer drugs, the better. Except, of course, for caffeine – the country runs on coffee and energy drinks.

And alcohol, the most widely used, and abused, drug in Denmark, which has the highest binge drinking rates in Europe.

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