Trial drug consumption rooms are a theme regularly debated in public. Now, the citizens’ initiative to trial supervised drug consumption rooms has received more than 50,000 signatures, and will progress to debate by Parliament.
The police has for long been concerned over the increase in drug use and higher number of narcotics offences, violent crimes and other associated crimes, as well as the resulting human suffering. Problems caused by the use of narcotics are complex and multi-faceted, and there is no simple and straightforward solution available.
The citizens’ initiative will trigger a more thorough public debate in society about narcotics and force the authorities to consider the issue as well. The police have also considered the threats and opportunities of supervised drug consumption rooms.
From the viewpoint of police operations, the trial would certainly be challenging. However, we see opportunities as well. Supervised drug consumption rooms, planned in careful cooperation by various actors, with a limited group of users, could be a justified addition to the current measures undertaken by social welfare and health care authorities, improving their services and other forms of preventing the harm caused by drug abuse.
This results in a few serious ‘buts’, that is, problems.
From the viewpoint of the police, there are several challenges involved, but let’s start with two significant ones: the legislation in force and limiting the target group for the drug consumption rooms. If legislation is not amended for the purposes of the trial, the standpoint of the police is clear: the use and possession of narcotics are punishable, and we must intervene, as required by law. Therefore, the experiment would absolutely require precise amendments to legislation.
Another matter that would have to be solved in the very beginning, is the target group of these facilities, that is, for whom they are intended. The police does not want to be part of creating or facilitating a free area for the use of narcotics, that is, facilities where anyone can go to use drugs or try them. The drug consumption rooms must be strictly limited for adults suffering from a drug abuse problem, who are most in need of such facilities.
In the opinion of the police, the purpose of drug consumption rooms must be to decrease the use of narcotics, reduce their attractivity, and enhance and develop referral to treatment and other related services.
More of these problems will arise as the debate progresses. To tackle the challenges, an open, honest and fact-based public debate with solid and sustainable reasoning is required between various authorities, NGOs, politicians, citizens and experts by experience. This difficult problem must be solved together.
The police do not want to stand in the way of or slow down the development of substance abuse services and we support all measures that can help decrease the use of narcotics and the related problems. A particular concern for the police is drug use by children and adolescents. We, too, look forward to finding ways to decrease the use of narcotics in the first place. Therefore, we have, for a long time now, targeted the range of measures available to us at preventing narcotics offences and introducing gradual measures instead of sanctions. We guide people to treatment instead of just issuing them with a fine.
However, the police are only one actor among many working to solve substance abuse problems, and our powers and measures focus on preventing disturbances and crime, maintaining security, and investigating crimes. Municipalities are responsible for organising substance abuse services and adequate resources for the purpose must be ensured. Activities and services require development in the future as well.
Drug addiction is a serious health problem that involves many harmful effects for the individuals, their nearest and dearest, and the society as a whole. That is why it is in the best interests of us all to get help for those that suffer from drug addiction. In the opinion of the police, it is very important to make the entire chain of referring addicts to treatment as well-functioning as possible, and this is the key challenge for us all.
More services and treatment cost money. Eventually, this is a value judgment for the central and local government authorities. What kind of measures is Finland prepared to undertake to reduce the harmful effects of intoxicants?
Tuomas Pöyhönen Chief Superintendent National Police Board Twitter @poyhonen_tuomas