In order to raise public awareness of effective overdose-death prevention methods, activists set up an unofficial drug consumption room in the middle of Helsinki.
A tent was set up in the centre of Helsinki, where those who inject drugs could come and use them safely, with the support of health professionals offering help, advice, hygienic equipment, and food. The facility aimed to prevent drug overdoses and infections related to the sharing of injecting equipment.
At around 4:50 p.m. on Wednesday, the police arrived and asked the activists to disassemble the tent. The tent was disassembled shortly after.
According to the organisers, the police argued that there was a reasonable suspicion that people committed crimes in the tent. However, according to the organisers, no one has visited the tent to use drugs, so there is no reason for the police to suspect.
According to Juha-Pekka Pääskysaari, one of the organisers of the event, this was an act of civil disobedience, borne out of the frustration of professionals and activists that the establishment of drug consumption rooms in Finland has progressed so slowly.
Pääskysaari, like other volunteers, said he was not representing any organisation. The action was organised by individual citizens protesting repressive drug policies.
“Simply put, this is civil disobedience,” said Pääskysaari. “By setting up this room, we want to highlight how people with substance abuse are treated in society. How can there be one group of people in this society whose illness is treated as a crime?”
Tuukka Tammi, Programme Director at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), understands the frustration of the volunteers who set up the tent.
“Illegal activity is illegal activity, but I understand their great concern,” said Tammi. “These activists know the reality. Many people die of drug overdoses every year and this kind of facility is one possible solution.”
According to Tammi, the timing of the demonstration was good because the government program for the next four years is currently being negotiated.
The City of Helsinki proposed that the Government Council enact a separate law to launch a pilot drug consumption room as early as 2019, but no progress was made during the previous administration.
The Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare, THL, supports the plan to open a pilot drug consumption room in Finland. According to its report, the facility would reach the most marginalised drug users and could improve access to health services for people who use drugs.
Finnish laws criminalise the possession of drugs for personal use. According to the police, a drug consumption room is illegal. At the beginning of this year, an official report by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health recommended that a separate law be enacted on the testing of drug consumption rooms.
(This article is based on the report of YLE, the Finnish national news agency.)