The use of drugs by the Finnish population has increased during this year, according to a study conducted by the National Institute of Health and Welfare (THL) based on the analysis of wastewater in some of the main cities of the country. Amphetamine and cocaine are now being used in Finland more than ever before.
The use of drugs was studied in March and late spring more extensively than ever before, in a total of 27 wastewater treatment plants. In addition, it has been monitored in the areas of Helsinki, Tampere, Turku, Kuopio and Oulu in weekly monitoring since spring.
Based on the samples collected in March, the total use of amphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy and methamphetamine was at a record high in several locations. For example, a clear peak was observed in the total use of these drugs in Helsinki, Espoo, Lahti, Tampere, Joensuu, Vaasa and Kemi, the health agency explains.
‘Amphetamine has long been a very common drug used throughout Finland. Its role is significant when assessing the problems and side-effects caused by drugs in general,' says Teemu Gunnar, Head of Forensic Toxicology Unit at THL.
The use of cocaine is also still at a record level, but according to THL its consumption has plateaued over the past couple of years.
Between 2012 and 2020, cocaine consumption has increased manifold in Finland. Cocaine use increased slightly in the summer in the large cities of Southern Finland in Helsinki, Tampere and Turku.
"The use of cocaine continues to focus heavily on the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. North of Tampere, the use of cocaine is minor and random,’ explains Gunnar.
Ecstasy, or MDMA, on the other hand, is used everywhere in Finland, but there have been no major changes in the amounts used.
Methamphetamine use is currently minor in Finland. There was a peak in the use of methamphetamine in 2016 and 2017 when its use in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area sometimes exceeded the use of amphetamine.
Availability affected by Covid-19
Restrictions on the movement of people caused by the coronavirus pandemic may have reduced temporarily the availability of illegal drugs in some places, more specifically in the main northern cities and in the archipelago.
"The combined use of stimulant drugs, for example amphetamine, methamphetamine and cocaine, decreased in all cities in Northern Finland, in Rovaniemi and Oulu even below the levels measured in 2018. Likewise, in Maarianhamina in the Åland Islands, drug use decreased significantly. This may have been influenced both by the restrictions on tourism and by factors affecting the availability of drugs in general," says Aino Kankaanpää, Development Manager at THL.
However, weekly monitoring from spring until the beginning of October shows that the decrease has been only temporary. Close monitoring found that after the reopening of society, the use of amphetamine began to increase in the summer. During the autumn, drug use has remained at a high level.
THL’s wastewater study produces information on the regional incidence of drug use and its changes. This year, 27 cities and their surrounding areas participated in the study. Of these, Pietarsaari, Salo, Rauma and Vihti participated for the first time.
The population base of the study covers approximately 60% of the entire population of Finland.
The samples for March were collected on 11–17 March 2020 and the samples for late spring on 27 May–2 June 2020. The next results are expected early next year.
"The monitoring of wastewater in five cities around Finland gives an idea of how drug use has developed since the emergency conditions. Whether the trend can be seen to apply to all 27 cities and neighbouring areas will be discovered once we get results from the extensive sample collections carried out in August and from those planned for November," explains Teemu Gunnar.