By Aleksi Hupli/Talking Drugs
According to the latest EMCDDA Drug Report, there were 258 drug-induced deaths in Finland in 2020, one of the highest rates in Europe considering the population size is about 5 and half million. To prevent increasing drug deaths, the city of Helsinki tried to introduce in 2019 a separate law reform that would allow for drug consumption rooms (DCRs) in the city. Late last year, Veronika Honkasalo from the Left Party Alliance with several other members of the Finnish Parliament inquired from the minister in charge when the government would act on the proposed initiative by the city of Helsinki as they had failed to do so. Earlier this year the National Institute of Health Social Affairs (THL) also recommended DCRs as one of many ways to prevent drug-induced deaths, but the Finnish government has not yet managed to implement such a law, nor has it signalled willingness to do so. Drug use and possession have been considered criminal acts in Finland since 1972 and this half a century old law is now preventing the implementation of DCRs and thereby an effective harm reduction measure that could save lives.
Recently, a citizen’s initiative calling for legislative reform to allow DCRs managed to obtain the required 50,000 signatures for parliamentary consideration. The initiative was initiated in early February 2022 by a group of social and health workers that work closely with people who use drugs and other marginalised populations. After a promising start, the amount of signatures stalled, and five months later in early July, the initiative had only collected around 19,000 signatures. For a while it seemed unlikely it would manage to get the required amount but the last month saw an exponential increase in signatories and the campaign has, as of now, collected almost 55,000 signatures.
Despite relatively wide support for safe consumption rooms from the public and some political parties, and the successful citizen’s initiative, it is unlikely that the acting government will implement any major drug policy reforms due to upcoming parliament elections in the spring of 2023. This seems to run against what was outlined in Finland's new substance abuse and addiction strategy, which strengthened the rights of people who use drugs, addiction and substance service users, as well as people close to them. The strategy is set to run until 2030, meaning that policies conducted within the strategy’s goals should not be stalled due to political tactics.