According to the 2022 European Drug Report released in June by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), Finland has the most drug-related deaths among youth in Europe. According to a Finnish NGO for the prevention of substance use, A-Clinic Foundation, drugs were the cause of death, in 2020, for 258 people and among these people 76 were under 25 years old. The report found that drug users in Finland die on average ten years younger compared to those in Norway, Turkey, and all other EU countries. According to the EMCDDA 2021 report, drug overdose was the second most common cause of death for men under 40 in Finland.
Since the early 2000s, drug-related deaths have tripled in Finland. The 2020 report also indicated that 67 per cent of drug-induced deaths were accidental poisonings, usually poisonings from multiple substances, with the most prominent substance in most death cases being a synthetic pharmaceutical opioid.
According to a survey conducted by the Finnish Broadcasting Company in 2021, Finnish police chiefs considered drug-related criminality and its side effects as the most serious threats to citizens’ security in Finland.
As the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare describes, Finland’s drug policy is based on the traditional prohibitionist approach. Serious drug offenses such as drug manufacturing, trading and trafficking, as well as the use and possession of drugs, are illegal and punishable. Alongside this prohibitionist policy, Finland supports harm-reduction policies which emphasize national health perspectives by reducing drug-related harm with health counseling provided to drug users, including needle and syringe programs and opioid substitution treatment.
The EMCDDA’s report was widely covered in Finnish media, sparking a public discussion about how drug overdoses and drug-related harm should be addressed.
In the beginning of February, a citizen’s initiative was launched for the establishment of supervised drug consumption rooms to reduce the harm related to drug use. In these spaces, sometimes called supervised injecting facilities, people who inject drugs are provided with sterile injection equipment and can use illicit drugs under the supervision of trained staff that can also intervene in the cases of overdoses that occur on-site. The citizen’s initiative for supervised drug consumption facilities reached the required signatories of 50,000 in the end of July, and the Parliament of Finland has taken it up for consideration.
The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare and the A-Clinic Foundation have supported the establishment of drug consumption facilities because international experiences have been positive and these facilities have reduced overdose deaths. Studies have found “an overall positive impact on the communities where these facilities are located” (EMCDDA 2018). At the same time, these facilities could also help to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, provide other social and health services, and reduce harm to the communities where drug consumption currently takes place.
Whereas the liberal political parties, the Greens and the Left Alliance, support the establishment of these facilities, some of the conservative political parties, the Finns Party and the Christian Democrats, fear that the citizen’s initiative sends the wrong message, and that the drug consumption facilities would increase drug use by making it more acceptable in the society. According to the Social Democratic Party, Centre Party, and the National Coalition Party, more research is needed on the topic before amending laws.
Finland’s support of the traditional prohibitionist drug policy has contributed to social injustice, public health problems, and high social costs. Drugs have continued to take lives and, with the current policies, drug abusers seek treatment far too late, if at all. Every person behind these bleak statistics of drug-related deaths is someone’s son or daughter, sister or brother, friend or colleague. There are no easy solutions to this crisis. Drug consumption facilities are only one part of the solution to this complex problem—other measures are also needed. But if these facilities can give people more time to combat their addiction, and potentially save lives, then aren’t they worth trying?
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