In the Red Cross first aid training, participants learn how to assist someone heavily intoxicated, for example, in an overdose situation. Image: Harri Mäenpää / Finnish Red Cross

Health & wellbeing

As part of World First Aid Day celebrations on September 9th, the Finnish Red Cross has initiated specialized first aid training targeting individuals who use substances. These training sessions, led by volunteers, aim to reduce accidents and fatalities, particularly those resulting from overdoses.

The inaugural substance-focused first aid training sessions organized by the Finnish Red Cross took place in Satakunta and Varsinais-Suomi regions.

Similar training programs will be conducted across Finland in the future.

The need for tailored first aid training has grown in tandem with the rising number of substance-related deaths. Annually, nearly 2,000 deaths occur in Finland due to substance abuse, with approximately 300 of these linked to narcotics. Unfortunately, the number of narcotic-related deaths has been increasing in recent years. Most narcotic-related fatalities result from accidental poisonings.

"Through adequate first aid training, it's possible to prevent some of these cases, ensuring that individuals who use substances are aware of how to respond in situations such as overdoses or poisonings. We provide guidance on how to assist both oneself and others because often, the first responder or the person who calls for additional help is a friend present at the scene. During these courses, we also emphasize how everyday risks can be mitigated, for instance, by maintaining safe injection practices and avoiding the use of narcotics when alone," explained Kati Laitila, the Finnish Red Cross's First Aid and Substance Abuse Program Planner.

Making First Aid Training Accessible

Many individuals who use substances might find it challenging to participate in courses or seek information.

"We've aimed to lower the barriers to participation so that as many people as possible can enhance their readiness to assist. These training sessions are free of charge and are conducted at locations where individuals who use substances gather, such as meeting places and housing units," noted Laitila.

These training sessions, lasting 1 to 2 hours, cover topics such as providing first aid to an unconscious person, controlling bleeding, identifying overdoses, and recognizing situations that require calling for additional help. Experienced Finnish Red Cross volunteers, specifically trained for these tasks, lead the training sessions.

Feedback from participants in pilot courses has been overwhelmingly positive. The Finnish Red Cross aims to reach hundreds of individuals from the target group through these training programs by the end of 2023.