Advocates from the Diakonissalaitos and Rinnekoti organizations, along with the Tukialus Project, are calling for a shift in Finnish drug policy, proposing supervised drug use facilities as a more humane, economically viable, and socially beneficial approach.
Jarmo Kantonen, Medical Director at Diakonissalaitos and Rinnekoti, alongside Jenny Kaasinen-Wickman, a project worker at the street-involved Tukialus Project, argue for replacing punitive measures against drug use with therapeutic solutions.
This approach includes improving the availability and quality of opioid substitution treatments and other drug therapies and initiating trials for supervised drug use facilities.
Debunking Common Myths
Myth: Supervised facilities encourage drug use. Contrary to popular belief, these facilities aim to reduce harms, overdoses, and infections among those already dependent on drugs, not to encourage drug usage. They provide a safe, monitored, and hygienic environment for drug injection, reducing mortality and morbidity among the severely addicted.
Myth: Such facilities are ideological nonsense. International evidence and a multitude of experts, including prominent Finnish organizations like Terveyden ja hyvinvoinnin laitos and A-klinikkasäätiö, support the establishment of supervised drug use facilities. Political will, however, remains a major hurdle.
Myth: Supervised facilities are expensive. While initial costs may be high, the economic savings for society are significantly more substantial. For example, treating one severe injection-related infection can cost tens of thousands of euros, much higher than the operational costs of these facilities.
Myth: Facilities increase local disturbances. Evidence from Europe, where such facilities have existed since the 1980s, shows they do not increase drug trafficking or crime in surrounding areas. Instead, they can enhance safety for both drug users and local residents and business owners.
A Humanitarian Approach to Drug Policy
Diakonissalaitos and Tukialus Project professionals encounter daily the harsh realities faced by people living on the streets, often resorting to public spaces for drug use. The proposed supervised facilities not only offer a solution to this public health issue but also connect individuals with broader social and healthcare services.
A recent incident highlighted by Tukialus Project, where a drug user required extensive and expensive hospital care for an infection, underscores the urgency and financial logic behind such facilities. By providing early, less costly interventions, these facilities could prevent more serious health issues and related expenditures.
The Decision Lies with Policymakers
As Finland's policymakers consider the future of the nation's drug policy, advocates emphasize the success of supervised drug use facilities in other countries and the potential benefits of adopting similar strategies in Finland. With 24,000 encounters reported by the Tukialus Project since 2018, the need for a preventive approach rather than a reactive one is increasingly evident. The advocates urge policymakers to consider these facilities as not just a means to manage drug addiction but as a proactive step towards more effective and compassionate drug policy.