Prior to starting this blog, we interviewed a professional from a substance abuse organization. During this interview we asked the professional how the COVID-19 has affected the substance abuse in Finland. For them personally the pandemic has not had a big effect when it comes to their work because they mostly handle phone- and online services. Regardless of this they have noticed the general decline in well being when it comes to the substance abuse service clients.
The general indisposition has been clear to see in Finland. The restrictions have left many people feeling alone with limited human contact, working remotely is taking its toll, you can constantly read from the news how many have been laid off permanently or temporarily and many find themselves knee deep in financial problems. When looking at the substance abuse statistics the use of amphetamine has increased during the restrictions, the drug users on the street are doing worse and worse and because of the changes in the services many end up overdosing. While alcohol consumption has decreased it has moved from bars to homes developing problems with violence and other issues.
Even though this year hasn´t been easy on anyone it is easy to see that the people in the society who have problems to begin with are the ones that have been affected the most. For them it has gotten from bad to worse.
Unfortunately, many services that are important to people with different problems have had to close their doors during spring. Some managed to find ways to offer services in a safe way but the restrictions made it hard or even impossible in many cases. Especially looking at the services for substance abusers and homeless (because many times the two groups overlap) many have been closed due to the restrictions. For example, during the spring when the meetings were limited to up to 10 people the day centres had close their doors. Often places like that are what keeps many people fed and warm at least for the moment. When the services are the only ones for some it is crucial to keep them up and running. Things were already looking gloomy during the spring and now in addition to everything else the weather is getting colder which it going to make things even harder for those without a home.
The professional we interviewed told that when the restrictions were placed in spring they had to adapt quickly. For them it took a couple of weeks to get their services online and the groups were able to continue. Even if people miss the physical face to face meetings a lot of good has come out of the restrictions. There are now more online services which will also be useful in the future after the pandemic has passed. With the online services people can attend meetings safely and the professionals can maybe even reach clients further away.
We won´t be able to see the long-term effects of Corona virus on the substance abuse statistics in Finland until much later. What happens when the overall well being deteriorates, more and more people suffer with their mental health and important services can´t help due to the unusual conditions? How will the substance abuse in Finland change in the new conditions?
There´s a dire need for the preventative services to get ahead of these and many yet unknown problems. We need to invent new ways to provide face to face services in a safe way while also develop online services to be even better and continue to do so even when the restrictions end. While the professionals are doing their best to keep the services up and running it is all of our responsibility to do our best to keep the virus from spreading and in the meanwhile we can try our best to take care of ourselves and each other.