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Drug deaths rising in Finland

Latest figures show a steady year-on-year increase, as drug prevention network criticises under-funded services.

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Substance abuse services are under-funded and difficult to access, according to the report. Image: AOP

The number of drug-related deaths in Finland is on the increase, according to a report by the Network for Preventive Substance Abuse Work. Last year, 188 people died from drug overdoses, 21 more deaths than in 2017.

This increase is in line with a wider trend which has seen a sharp rise in drug-related deaths in recent years. In 2005, for example, there were only 72 reported deaths from drug overdose in Finland.

In many municipalities, substance abuse services are severely under-resourced and difficult to access, CEO Ron Furman said in a statement released by the network, and called on policy makers to take more action.

"There is cause for concern about drug-related deaths, as almost all of them are preventable," Furman said, "However, deaths among drug users have been viewed as a necessary evil in which there has been no political motivation to intervene."

"Still a taboo subject"

The gender distribution of drug users in Finland follows the wider European trend: a clear majority, up to 75 percent, are men. Drug poisoning is the second most common cause of death in men under 40 in Finland, second only to suicide.

"Drug deaths affect ordinary people and families," said Heli Saavalainen, whose son died of drug abuse at the age of 26. "Drug deaths have to be talked about because drug addiction is still a taboo subject. Unfortunately, drug death is often treated with prejudice as if it were deserved."

Finland has the seventh-highest number of drug-related deaths in the EU relative to population, according to a report released earlier this year by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

Another report, released by the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) in June, found that there had been a marked increase in the use of intravenous drug use in Finland over recent years, with amphetamine, methamphetamine and buprenorphine becoming especially popular.

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