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Copenhagen mayor: Response to youth opioid use came too late

Sisse Marie Welling, Mayor of Health and Care Services
Sisse Marie Welling

04.06.2024 - The government recently announced an initiative to address the use of opioids among young people. It's high time, according to Sisse Marie Welling (SF), Copenhagen's Mayor for Health and Care, who believes the government has been too slow to respond. A new study from the Municipality of Copenhagen shows an increasing number of young people in Copenhagen experimenting with opioids.

These drugs come in ordinary medicine packages and look like any other medication you can buy at the pharmacy. However, blister packs with names like Oxycodone, Dolol, or Tramadol unfortunately contain substances that are extraordinarily addictive and dangerous to experiment with. Despite this, there is an increasing trend of young people using opioids as a recreational drug.

"In the US, the opioid crisis has raged for years, killing hundreds of thousands. And I don't want to paint a dire picture – Denmark is fortunately far from the American nightmare – but it's concerning that these substances have gained a foothold here. It should never have come to this, and it must be stopped before it becomes a bigger problem," says Copenhagen’s Mayor for Health and Care, Sisse Marie Welling.

In the nationwide survey 'Youth Profile,' recently conducted among students at 30 secondary schools in Copenhagen, 9 percent of young people in Copenhagen reported having tried hard drugs. Of these, 18 percent had taken opioids, an increase of three percentage points from the previous year. Although it remains a small proportion of young people who have taken opioids, the trend is concerning, the mayor believes.

Monitoring the development closely

With the recently announced government initiative, it now appears that there will be a national crackdown with stricter control and penalties for selling these substances, as well as better treatment options. However, the specific initiatives have not yet been detailed.

"There has been a lot of talk about this for a long time, so I don't quite understand why the government is only now starting to act. Perhaps a fear of escalating the issue or simply reluctance to address it has played a part – but this has only allowed the spread to continue. I am pleased that the government now wants to increase both control and penalties, as we in the municipalities can do little in this regard. But we are not sitting idly in Copenhagen," says Sisse Marie Welling.

Soon, the Health and Care Administration, together with the Criminological Observatory at the University of Copenhagen, will publish a target group study to provide new insights into how and why young people use illegal substances and offer recommendations on how the municipality and others can more effectively handle and prevent abuse. And the mayor for health and care plans to act on these findings.

"I look forward to gaining more knowledge about this specific target group and why they were introduced to these substances in the first place. We need this knowledge to better equip teachers and counselors to spot young people who are either on their way to or already caught in substance abuse," says Sisse Marie Welling.

The health and care mayor expects to take new concrete initiatives during the upcoming budget negotiations later this year.

Opioids and the Youth Profile

Opioids are a group of powerful painkillers that work by numbing the central nervous system. Opioids are extremely addictive, and the risk of fatal overdose is high. This is the fifth time the Municipality of Copenhagen has participated in the Youth Profile – a nationwide survey that assesses young people's well-being and health. In the 2023 Youth Profile, 10,368 young people across 30 high schools, vocational schools, preparatory basic education (FGU), 10th-grade classes, and youth schools in the Municipality of Copenhagen participated in the survey. This corresponds to a participation rate of 73 percent of those invited. It is the second time that opioids have been included in the Youth Profile. In 2022, 15 percent of young people who had tried hard drugs reported taking opioids. In 2023, this figure had risen to 18 percent. The municipality's night hosts, who move among young people in the nightlife, were recently equipped with so-called Naloxone nasal sprays, an antidote that can counteract fatal overdoses. At U-turn, young people between the ages of 14 and 24 can receive counseling and treatment if they have a substance or alcohol abuse problem. It is open Monday to Thursday. U-turn has 20 years of experience counseling children and young people about substance abuse.

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