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Substance abuse helpline: Calls reflect rising drug use

Over half of the calls to Finland's official substance abuse helpline still concern alcohol, but the percentage of callers asking about marijuana and prescription drugs is growing. Last year, ten percent of the calls to EHYT's service were about amphetamines, while one quarter of the people on the line had questions or concerns about cannabis.

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Image: Andres Cristaldo / EPA

The Finnish Association for Substance Abuse Prevention EHYT says a rise in drug use in Finland can be seen in their helpline records. EHYT planner Timo Glad says customer calls reveal that illegal medications and cannabis are now more readily available on the streets.

"It's clearly easier to get your hands on illegal drugs these days, at least in the big cities," Glad says.

The Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle reported last week that sales of sedatives like barbiturates, antidepressants and opioids are growing in Finland, as is the trade in cannabis.

Glad says the trend is very worrying.

"If the drugs are easier to get, the threshold for buying them falls. Before long, people will start developing problems," he says.

He reports that over half of the calls to his organisation's helpline concern alcohol, but substance callers are also reporting more mixed substance abuse.

"People often mix medication and alcohol without even knowing it. They don't necessarily think about how they will react if taken together," he says.

25% concern marijuana

Ten percent of helpline calls in 2016 mentioned amphetamines, and designer drugs were also more frequently mentioned. The majority of callers that have drug questions or concerns call to talk about marijuana, however, a drug that accounted for every fourth call to the helpline last year.

"Cannabis is more and more often the topic of discussion. More people are using pot, and this is apparent in our support work," says Glad.

Studies show that cannabis has the largest share of the drug market in Europe. A recent report on Finland shows that marijuana use has stayed stable, with young people its biggest consumers.

"Especially during the day our calls are mostly from a potential substance abuser's loved ones, who are concerned about the drug use," says EHYT's Glad.

Over 8,000 calls in 2016

Two years ago, the organisation's helpline received some 5,400 calls, but last year that number jumped to over 8,600. Over 5,600 calls have already been recorded in 2017, so the number is expected to grow even further this year. The month of August has traditionally proven to be a busy month for calls.

Glad says the helpline only has one line in use at present, so only 80 percent of the calls can be answered.

"In the afternoon and early evening, the line is constantly engaged," he says.

Finland's Substance Abuse Helpline is jointly administered by the Finnish Association for Substance Abuse Prevention EHYT and the Helsinki Deaconess Institute and is intended to provide assistance to people who suffer from substance abuse, their loved ones and professionals in the field. It is funded by the Funding Centre for Social Welfare and Health Organisations (STEA) in Finland.

People with questions or concerns are encouraged to call 0800 900 45 free of charge 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Callers can remain anonymous, if they wish. 

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