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Drug deaths double in a decade

As the use of amphetamines and opioids has risen, younger people are dying of overdoses.

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Half of those who die from drug overdoses are under 30 years old. Image: Hernan Schmidt / AOP

Drug-related deaths are on the rise in Finland, and overdose deaths are happening to younger people, according to new figures out on Wednesday.

A report by the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) shows that the number of drug-related deaths continues to rise while the average age in drug-related deaths is younger than ever before.

The report reveals that 189 people died from drug overdoses in Finland last year. Ten years ago, that figure was just over 100.

THL’s statistics are based on the cause of death certificates as defined by doctors. Official mortality statistics are maintained by Statistics Finland, which records drug-related deaths in accordance with international regulations, for comparative purposes.

Drugs or other intoxicating substances are sometimes found in the deceased even if they did not directly cause the death. These post-mortem lab results have also increased year by year throughout the 2000s and 2010s, and they totalled more than 400 by 2019.

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Number of drug-related deaths have increased for twenty years.
Image: Ilkka Kemppinen / Yle
According to a 2018 survey on drug usage in Finnish society, cannabis is the most commonly used drug, with at least one quarter of people living in Finland admitting to having experimented at least once.

The THL report explains the increase in deaths as largely attributable to the growing use of cannabis, but amphetamines and opioids, such as buprenorphine, are also increasingly being found in the deceased.

Buprenorphine is used to treat opioid use disorder, acute pain, and chronic pain. In 2019, it was found to be the major cause in 91 overdose deaths, or about one in two.

Other opioids are also increasingly found to be a factor in overdose deaths, with opioids the main cause in a total of 80 percent of all drug overdose deaths in 2019.

Half of deceased under 30 years of age

The most common age group for problem drug use is 25-34 year olds, with the second most common group being 35-44 year olds. The latest research shows that problem use among 15-24 year olds is also growing.

Problem drug use refers to the use of amphetamines or opioids that can cause serious damage to users’ health, as well as related social problems.

The most recent estimate is from 2017, when there were between 31,100 and 44,300 problem users in Finland, or about one percent of the Finnish population. Two-thirds of problem users are men.

Although drug use among young people has generally increased moderately, the number of problem users in younger age groups has also risen, the data showed.

Over the past five years, the proportion of under-30s in drug overdose deaths has risen from 33 percent to 49 percent. THL says it is concerned about the growing proportion of young people in these statistics.

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