Finland is often held up as a shining example on the world stage. Thanks to its advanced healthcare system, low crime rates, and wealth of natural beauty, the UN has named it the world’s happiest country five years in a row.
Yet behind the romantic snapshots of snow-sunken villages, the Nordic nation has a growing problem.
Finland is the European country with the highest proportion of under 25s dying from drugs.
In 2022, almost 30% of casualties were 25 and under, and drug users in Finland die on average ten years younger than those in other EU countries.
Many overdoses occur because of the presence of multiple substances in the body, notably buprenorphine, benzodiazepines and alcohol.
Euronews reporter Hans von der Brelie has been to Finland to find the faces behind the figures.
Niko is a 25-year-old with substance use disorder. “I first started smoking marijuana when I was 12”, he tells Hans. “When I was 16, I was making opium tea and I started to use ecstasy, amphetamine, and then came the whole range of drugs.”
“I lost many friends when I was younger”, he explains. “When I was twenty, they started falling like apples from trees.”
Niko will soon be sent to prison because of criminal behaviour. He sees his time behind bars as a chance to stop using.
Only 20% of those with substance abuse disorder receive treatment in Finland, compared to 70% in neighbouring Sweden.
Suvi and Ninja work for the Blue Ribbon Foundation in Finland, an organisation that supports the homeless and those struggling with addiction.
The women are in favour of supervised injecting rooms, a place where people can take drugs in a hygienic environment, observed by a professional. Primarily found in Germany and the Netherlands, these rooms have been found to reduce injecting-related harms.
“People use drugs in these places”, Suvi gestures to a public toilet. “They are very hazardous to people’s health.”
Yet Hans’ meeting with Tomi, a former user, offers a ray of hope against the dark backdrop of Finland’s drug problem.
Tomi has been clean for two years, after four drug-induced, near-death experiences.
He overcame his addiction after a stint in prison.
Now, with a new baby, he dreams of becoming a fireman and starting afresh.
He tells Hans: “I’m stepping into my new life and going out there to see where my wings will carry me.”