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EHYT: A comprehensive strategy is essential in preventing drug-related deaths

18.09.2023 - The discussion about testing supervised consumption rooms for drug users is once again topical, as the Parliament addressed a citizens' initiative on the matter on Wednesday, 13th September. The prevention of drug-related harms is a broader issue than just supervised consumption rooms, hence it's imperative to ensure that there are enough low-threshold services and activities to prevent drug use among young people.

"The current back-and-forth debate about a single measure like a supervised consumption room diverts attention from what's essential. The crucial thing is that those who need help and support get it. We need low-threshold services because the current service system does not adequately meet the needs for care and support," says Juha Mikkonen, the Executive Director of the EHYT Finnish Association for Substance Abuse Prevention.

For instance, finding facilities for low-threshold day centres maintained by organisations that provide health and social counselling for substance users is challenging even in a large city like Helsinki.

"We need a sufficient number of low-threshold health counselling centres nationwide, where harm reduction methods are available. A supervised consumption room is just one possible measure in a wider toolkit. It's vital in decision-making to allocate resources both to preventative actions and harm reduction," Mikkonen says.

From Words to Action

Primarily, interventions in drug use should come from social and healthcare services, not through criminal justice means. To reduce drug-related deaths, effective solutions and political will are required to solve the problem.

"The commitment in Orpo's government program to particularly focus on preventing drug use among youth and reducing young people's drug-related deaths needs to be materialised and resourced," states Mikkonen.

Along with harm reduction, young people must be offered quality preventative work appropriate for their age and development level in their communities, such as in schools, educational institutions, hobbies, and social media. Families also need support in issues related to substance use. Early support and, when necessary, strengthening parental skills have been proven effective in prevention.

"We also need new harm-reducing measures. Recommendations and solution proposals from the THL expert group should be taken seriously. More detailed information on the causes of drug-related deaths is also required. A significant portion of drug deaths in Finland is due to respiratory failure caused by multi-drug intoxications, where alcohol combined with drugs such as buprenorphine and benzodiazepine," Mikkonen explains.

In Finland, NGOs largely oversee the diverse preventive work and health promotion. However, the government plans to cut 100 million euros from them by 2027.

"If the genuine intention is to reduce drug-related deaths, these cuts won't relieve the situation, and the government should revoke them. A significant number of drug-related deaths could be prevented. Everyone has the right to seek help when needed. It's known that drug users often receive help too late. Every drug death, including those resulting from alcohol, is a tragedy affecting tens of thousands of loved ones annually. This loss impacts the resilience and daily coping of relatives. Therefore, building a comprehensive and targeted service system and preventative work targeting the entire population is crucial," Mikkonen reminds.

Source: EHYT ry

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