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Study reveals opioid treatment barriers in high-risk users in Finland


A recent study shows that many high-risk opioid users do not enter treatment even though the most common reason for opioid use is self-medication for withdrawal symptoms1. The study uncovered several barriers hindering access to treatment, urging immediate action to address this critical trend in Finland.

Over the past decade, Finland has witnessed a significant rise in opioid misuse, doubling the number of high-risk opioid users. In recent years, opioids have been involved in approximately 70% of fatal overdoses in Finland, especially among individuals under 25 years of age2. This alarming trend poses a significant challenge as opioids, a class of pharmaceuticals commonly used for the treatment of acute pain, are highly addictive.

A recent collaborative survey conducted by Camurus and Oriola at needle-exchange units1 confirmed widespread illicit buprenorphine use among opioid-dependent individuals. The survey aimed to shed light on the untreated high-risk opioid user population in Finland. The study, conducted during 2021–2022, included responses from 167 opioid-dependent individuals without current opioid agonist treatment and revealed critical insights.

Some common reasons for illicit opioid use among the respondents were self-medication for withdrawal symptoms (75%), treating psychological symptoms (59%), or managing pain (43%). Moreover, 70% of the respondents also used other substances for recreational purposes. However, despite the evident need for intervention, entering treatment was perceived by many as too difficult or treatment was seen as too binding. Many were also frightened of repercussions from the authorities. Limited treatment awareness among respondents eligible for treatment in Finland further exacerbated the issue.

A call for accurate information and easier access to treatment

“This is a vulnerable and, in many ways, disadvantaged patient group whose voices are not commonly heard. The study findings emphasise the importance of accurate information and easier access to treatment. Addressing misconceptions, minimizing waiting times, and tailoring treatment to individual needs are key steps towards encouraging treatment uptake and reducing self-medication. This would relieve both the strain on the healthcare system and the individual burden caused by opioid misuse,” says Ari Kaski, MD, Specialist in Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine.


1 Prami T, Pölkki M, Ruotsalainen J, Banke Nordberg E, Meyner S, Kaski A. Reasons for not entering opioid agonist treatment – a survey among high-risk opioid users in Finland. NAD. 2023; epub ahead of print. First published online October 17, 2023. Available at: (accessed Nov 1, 2023)

2 Kriikku P, Tikkanen J, Ojanperä I. Nuoren huumemyrkytyskuoleman taustalla on useimmiten buprenorfiinin, bentsodiatsepiinien ja amfetamiinin päihdekäyttö [Fatal drug poisoning most often due to abuse of buprenorphine, benzodiazepines, and amphetamine]. Duodecim. 2022;138(13):1251–6. [In Finnish] Available at: (accessed Nov 1, 2023).

More information:

Ari Kaski, MD, Specialist in Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, e‑mail:

Tuire Prami, PhD, ERT, Senior RWE Scientist, Oriola, tel. +358 50 5468 459, e-mail:

Oriola aims to be the leading specialist in wholesale of pharmaceuticals and health products. In addition, we provide advisory services to pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies as well as dose dispensing for pharmacies and healthcare units. Our long tradition has set the foundation for our unrivalled knowledge and expertise in the pharmaceutical sector, and to our purpose – Health for life. We take pride in enhancing the availability and safe use of medicines and healthcare products. Oriola operates mainly on Finnish and Swedish markets. In 2022, our net sales were 1.5 billion euros and we employed around 930 professionals. Oriola Corporation is listed on Nasdaq Helsinki.