Pubdate: Tue, 28 May 2002
Source: Helsingin Sanomat International Edition (Finland)
Copyright: 2002 2000 Helsingin Sanomat
Author: Miska Rantanen


Many of today's illegal drugs were used in Finland well before the 
hippie era - the country was full of them during the war

The day is March 18, 1944.

A Finnish ski patrol in the terrain of Kantalahti in Finnish Lapland 
is on the third day of its mission behind enemy lines when the group 
is ambushed by Soviet forces at the foot of Kaitatunturi fell. During 
an intense firefight, the men manage to slip past the enemy who are 
trying to encircle them.

What ensues is a wild pursuit on skis.

Aimo Koivunen, who opens the track in the virgin snow, feels his 
energy slipping away. The Russians are gaining on them until Koivunen 
remembers that he has the group's entire supply of Pervitin in his 
breast pocket.

Before that he has taken a suspicious view of the strong stimulant 
that was given out to commando forces operating behind enemy lines, 
but now the situation is serious.

The men have to ski fast and it is not easy to dig out just one pill, 
so he dumps the whole supply - 30 pills - into his mitten.

Soon Koivunen's skiing gets a new boost, and the whole patrol moves 
forward at a much faster pace.

This lasts for just a short time. Soon Koivunen notices distortions 
in his field of vision, and his consciousness begins to fade. The 
overdose of methamphetamine contained in the pills puts Koivunen into 
a state of delirium lasting several days, with alternating phases of 
wakefulness, sleep, and hallucinations.

His next recollection is from the next morning. He is 100 kilometres 
away. He has lost his patrol, and has no more ammunition, or food. 
Now he faces a real ordeal just to survive.

During the days that follow, Koivunen successfully flees Russian 
partisan forces, is injured by a land mine, and lies for a week in a 
pit in the snow waiting for help to arrive. He skis for more than 400 
kilometres in temperatures of -20  C. During two weeks the only food 
he has are pine buds and a Siberian jay that he catches and eats raw.

When he is finally rescued and taken to a hospital his pulse rate is 
nearly 200 beats per minute and his weight has dropped to 43 kilos.

Aimo Koivunen's adventure story is part of the history of Finland's 
wartime commando forces. But it is historical in another sense as 
well: Koivunen became one of the first Finns to overdose on speed.

The arrival of mind-altering drugs in Finland is generally seen to 
have taken place in the mid-1960s when psychedelic substances - 
especially cannabis - first came into the country along with the 
hippie movement.

However, drugs were by no means unknown in Finland before the 1960s. 
Already in 1922 the first statute was given in which opium, morphine, 
cocaine, and heroin were declared intoxicant drugs.

The reason for the move was not an out-of-control drug problem, but 
rather an international treaty signed in The Hague in 1912. Alcohol 
was still Finland's main intoxicant - in spite of prohibition.

However, the use of narcotics was increasing. In the 1920s and 1930s, 
drugs were used mainly by those who had access to them. Many doctors, 
nurses, and pharmacists could not resist the temptation to try their 
substances in their free time. One in four abusers were doctors.

Not all substances were even perceived to be dangerous. There was 
plenty of legal morphine and heroin in Finland, which was used in the 
manufacture of cough medicine.

In fact, in the 1930s Finland was the number-two country in the per 
capita use of heroin - right after Japan. The consumption rate was 
about seven kilos per one million inhabitants. Because of this 
Finland got a number of warnings from the international opium control 

As a result of the incautious dispensing of opiates, addiction often 
began from what seemed like innocent medication. For instance, the 
18-year morphine habit of composer Aarre Merikanto started with opium 
that he took for a stomach disorder.

As the drugs were easily available, there was little crime connected with them.

The dangers of the chemicals were apparent, though: in the 1930s 
hospitals regularly treated opiate addicts, although the number of 
new cases in a year could be counted on the fingers of a single hand.

Drugs were mainly a problem of the higher social classes; two thirds 
of habitual users were among the well-to-do, and opiate addiction was 
actually referred to as upper class morphine dependency.

There were not many drug references in the Finnish literature of the 
time. One of the few that did appear was in The Great Illusion, the 
first novel of writer Mika Waltari. In it the main character and his 
academically educated friend Hellas try to get some cocaine from a 
German ship at a pier in Katajanokka in central Helsinki. "It is pure 
reason, concentrated sunshine and the gleam of steel", Hellas says 

The description cannot be attributed to pure imagination. Young 
bohemians felt a certain amount of interest in the new intoxicants, 
and for instance, the young author Olavi Paavolainen experimented 
extensively with opium in the early 1920s.

The war changed everything. Large amounts of stimulant and narcotic 
drugs became available - especially in the trenches. Opiates were 
used to alleviate the pain of the wounded, and stimulants helped keep 
soldiers awake.

For instance, the Pervitin used by Aimo Koivunen was developed in 
Germany, and was used to keep soldiers alert during battle. The same 
substance was also popular among the military command and medical 
personnel; doctors needed more than just coffee to get through 
stretches of almost uninterrupted surgery lasting up to three weeks.

Nevertheless, Pervitin did not cause any serious problems in Finland, 
and its use was limited to the applications for which it was 
intended. The pills had such a good reputation that after the war the 
name Pervitin was used to market a cold remedy, which nevertheless 
did not contain any amphetamine.

Morphine and heroin used as analgesics helped establish Finland's 
first generation of opiate addicts. People bought the drugs far 
beyond medical necessity, and wartime heroin pills were to be found 
on the black market as late as the end of the 1960s.

Addiction usually set in after a war injury during convalescence. 
Getting hooked on opiates in the midst of war was seen as something 
of a routine event in the heat of war.

In a book on his wartime experiences, writer Jouko Teperi recalls 
once when the front lines were stable, how he went to see a film 
along with a second lieutenant from a neighbouring dugout. During the 
film Teperi's companion kept popping what appeared to be sweets. When 
Teperi asked if he could have some, the lieutenant apologised and 
said that he probably wouldn't like them, because they were heroin 

The war led to an increase in the use of drugs. It is estimated that 
there were about 500 addicts in Finland immediately after the war, 
most of them living in Helsinki. They would get their drugs with 
prescriptions, both genuine and forged. Gradually a black market 
arose. Heroin was sold at Finnish pharmacies until 1957.

In the trenches this vice of the upper classes had spread to other 
social classes. Soon more than two thirds of those seeking treatment 
for their addiction had a working class background. The drug addicts 
gradually began to form a separate subculture.

In May 1949 Helsingin Sanomat printed a story about a "ring of 
morphine addicts" in Helsinki. The paper interviewed one of the 
group's more prominent members, an academically educated woman about 
30 years of age.

In the interview the woman said that the group included 115 morphine 
users, ten of whom were women. The roots of the addictions of most of 
them were in field hospitals during the war, but other types of users 
were also infiltrating the group.

"Unfortunately we have been getting real criminal elements among us", 
she said regretfully.

When tighter controls were imposed on Finnish pharmacies in the 1950s 
it became increasingly difficult to get hold of heroin and morphine. 
Opiates affecting the central nervous system no longer spread among 
the younger generation, and a shrinking older generation of wartime 
drug addicts were left to haunt the country's health statistics.

The number of "traditional" drug addicts is believed to have dropped 
to less than 100 by the early 1960s. However, a completely new class 
of users soon arose.

After the Second World War the pharmaceutical industry brought plenty 
of new substances onto the market, and many of them had effects that 
were not very well understood. For instance the diet pills favoured 
by housewives in the 1950s and 1960s contained large amounts of 
amphetamine derivatives.

These new pharmaceutical innovations were met with much hope. LSD was 
welcomed as a potential treatment for mental disorders. Even in 
Finland medical students experimented with the substance under the 
supervision of Dr. Asser Huttunen at the Lapinlahti mental hospital, 
but these experiments were discontinued in the mid-1960s.

In any case, the decreased use of opiates suggested that the drug 
problem was under control. This proved to be the calm before the 
storm. People soon learned about cannabis and the even stronger 
mind-expanders favoured by bohemians and jazz musicians of different 

The final moments of innocence were reflected in a Moomintroll comic 
strip in the newspaper Ilta-Sanomat in 1968. The strip, drawn and 
written by Lars Jansson, was entitled The Moomins in Torrelorca.

In it, the Moomintroll family are on a southern holiday when they 
happen to pop half a kilo of "LBJ pills" at a party thrown by young 
artists. As a result the whole family end up staring at the moon for 
a week.
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