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Survey: Half of Finns approve of designated "drug use rooms"

Drug consumption rooms have become common in other parts of the world, but are not currently available in Finland.

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Drug use has been steadily increasing in Finland over the last 10 years. Image: Timo Sihvonen / Yle

Over half of Finns would support alternative methods for tackling Finland's growing drug problem, such as the introduction of specially designated drug consumption rooms (DCRs), according to a survey commissioned by the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

Drug consumption rooms are "professionally supervised healthcare facilities where people can consume illicit drugs in a safe and non-judgmental environment", as defined by the NGO Harm Reduction International (HRI).

The survey also found support among survey respondents for other ways of reducing the harm caused by the consumption of illegal drugs, including the introduction of anonymous drug testing and the distribution of naloxone, a medication used to nullify the effects of opioids.

Scepticism over interventions

Traditionally, Finnish people have tended to be wary of measures that would appear to facilitate the consumption of drugs, according to Pekka Hakkarainen, research professor at THL. For example, methods such as replacement therapy, needle exchange programmes and health counseling for users were all initially treated with scepticism. However, Hakkarainen believes the results of this latest study shows that attitudes are changing.

"When people notice that these actions produce good results and do not lead to more use or experimentation, their attitudes change," Hakkarainen said.

The survey also found that there were no major differences in the attitudes towards the use rooms between age groups, or between men and women. Approximately 50 percent of men and 52 percent of women said they were either partially or wholly in favour of drug consumption rooms for problem drug users.

Young adults were very supportive of the idea, with over 60 percent saying they were in favour. People over 45 were less enthusiastic, with only 46 percent found to be either partially or fully supportive.

Drug deaths increased sharply in 2018

Drug use has steadily increased over the last ten years. In 2019, 261 people died of drugs in Finland, which is the highest figure since records began and is part of a wider trend. According to Statistics Finland, the number of drug-related deaths has increased for the last three consecutive years.

Hakkarainen sees the use of drug consumption rooms as a service for the most vulnerable drug users.

"The service would help people who do not use other services and would also prevent drug deaths" Hakkarainen said.

Last Spring, the City of Helsinki asked the Government to introduce a new law which would allow for a drug consumption room to be provided in Helsinki.

Deputy Mayor Sanna Vesikansan said there had been discussions between officials at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Ministry of the Interior in late autumn, and that the proposal is now in the hands of the Ministry for Social Affairs and Health.

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