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Parties disagree on fixes for Finland's outsized youth drug death problem

Within Europe, Finland has the most drug-related fatalities among people aged 25 and under, in proportion to its population.

A drug use room in Zurich, Switzerland, file photo. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle
Yle News

Finland's parliamentary parties are sharply divided on how to reduce the damage caused by drug abuse.

Among European countries, Finland experiences the most drug-related fatalities among people aged 25 and under, in proportion to its population.

Published in the summer, the European Drug Report (siirryt toiseen palveluun) 2022, laid out an analysis of the drug situation across the bloc. Among other things, it focused on illegal drugs as well as their harms, categorised by country.

The substances behind Finland's drug deaths are most often a mix of the opiate buprenorphine (Subutex), alcohol and sedatives.

Some cities, like Helsinki and Turku, have also seen a recent uptick in gang violence, with conflicts often linked to narcotics in one way or another.

The Finns Party and Christian Democrats share a hard-line attitude towards recreational drug use, with zero-tolerance and stiff-sentence policies.

On the other side of the political spectrum on the matter are the Left Alliance and Green Party. They are currently the only two parties advocating for the decriminalisation of drug use, while calling for the prosecution of drug dealers.

Finns Party, Christian Democrats

The nationalist Finns Party has called for the deportation of foreigners convicted of drug dealing. Meanwhile, the party's parliamentary group chair, Ville Tavio, said he was against establishing monitored drug consumption rooms that proponents say reduce accidental overdose deaths.

Tavio said that zero-tolerance policies deter drug use and prevent crime.

The Christian Democrats also share a hard line policy about drugs. Its parliamentary group chair, Päivi Räsänen, said she thinks decriminalisation and drug use rooms are a bad idea.

"Decriminalising drug use and setting up drug rooms would be a message that drug use is not harmful," she said.

Green Party, Left Alliance

On the other end of opinion, are the aforementioned Green Party and Left Alliance.

According to the Green Party, current criminalisation policies have not helped to reduce drug abuse, or the harms that it causes. Additionally, parliamentary group vice chair, Saara Hyrkkö, said drug dealers and distributors should face punishment, not drug users.

"Removing penalties for drug use would make it easier for young people to get treatment," she told Yle. 

The Left Alliance's parliamentary group chair, Jussi Saramo, said he thinks the current punitive arrangement discourages people with drug problems from seeking help, while at the same time stigmatises and marginalises addicts.

"Drug policy should encourage people to seek rehabilitation, not punish those suffering from substance abuse problems," Saramo said.

NCP, SDP and Centre

Those between the two ends of the drug policy spectrum include the National Coalition (NCP), Social Democrat (SDP) and Centre parties, all of which are currently unprepared to decriminalise drug use. 

However the three parties all agree that crimes should be prevented in advance and substance abusers need to get treatment.

National Coalition MP — and former police officer — Kari Tolvanen, prefers a combination of soft and hard policies. He said there must be a low threshold for people to seek treatment for drug problems, but that there also need to be financial consequences for dealers.

"The proceeds of gang crime must be dealt with more effectively than they currently are, for example, expensive cars should be forfeited to the state," he said.

However, last weekend, the NCP's youth wing called for the decriminalisation of all drug use in Finland, but that suggestion was promptly quieted by the parent party.

Reacting to the youth arm's declaration on Sunday, NCP party secretary Kristiina Kokko said there was no reason for Finland to decriminalise drugs, unless such a solution would be broadly undertaken by other European countries.

Meanwhile, the Centre's MP Hanna Huttunen explained that the party does not support decriminalisation of drug use, but said facilitating access to treatment programmes and offering other kinds of support are important.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin's party, the SDP, emphasises the prevention of drug problems from happening in the first place, according to vice chair of the party's parliamentary group, Kim Berg.

"The best drug policy is to intervene in problems with families, the underprivileged and excluded, offer drug education and to identify problems early," Berg said.

SPP

The Swedish People's Party (SPP) wants Finland's current criminal policies to continue, but the party's parliamentary chair, Anders Adlercreutz said he would be willing to see if supervised drug use rooms would help the situation.

"[Drug] use rooms ensure that users can get help," he said.

Aki Lindén (SDP), who served as Minister of Family and Basic Services during Krista Kiuru's (SDP) parental leave, has proposed that Helsinki should trial supervised drug use rooms.

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