Addiction research centres and the nurturing of creativity: the Department of Alcohol, Drugs and Addiction at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland: diverse problems, diverse perspectives.
The Department of Alcohol, Drugs and Addiction started operations on 1 January 2009, when the National Institute of Public Health (KTL) and the National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health (STAKES) were merged. The newly formed institute, called the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), operates under the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. The scope of the research and preventive work conducted in the Department covers alcohol, drugs, tobacco and gambling issues. The two main tasks of the Department are (i) to research, produce and disseminate information on alcohol and drugs, substance use, addictions and their social and health-related effects and (ii) to develop prevention and good practices with a view to counteracting the onset and development of alcohol and drug problems and the damaging effects of smoking and other addictions. The number of staff hovers at approximately 60 people. The Department is organized into three units, one specialized in social sciences (the Alcohol and Drug Research Unit), another in laboratory analytics (the Alcohol and Drug Analytics Unit) and the third primarily in preventive work (the Addiction Prevention Unit). These units incorporate a rich variety and long traditions of both research and preventive work. The mixture of different disciplines creates good opportunities for interdisciplinary research projects and collaboration within the Department. Also, the fact that in the same administrative context there are both researchers and people specialized in preventive work opens up interesting possibilities for combining efforts from these two branches. Nationally, the Department is a key player in all its fields of interest. It engages in a great deal of cooperation both nationally and internationally, and among its strengths are the high-quality, regularly collected long-term data sets.
During the summer of 2004 the police closed Plata, an open drug scene in the midst of Oslo. The most important argument for the closure was that the drug scene made it easier for curious, city-dwelling adolescents to start using drugs. This research sought to assess this assumption. Ethnographic research methods including twenty 2-hr field observations and qualitative semi-structures interviews were employed. Interviews were conducted with 30 adolescents in the centre of Oslo, as well as with 10 former drug users, three police officers and three field workers. We were also given access to police statistics and authorised to do our own analysis of the material. The most important result was that adolescents seemed rather to avoid than to be attracted to this open drug scene in Oslo. Based on the presentation of qualitative data we suggest that this was due to the social definition of the drug scene. Because they experienced a great social distance between themselves and the regulars at the open drug scene, adolescents seemed to avoid Plata. Moreover, the scene was symbolically associated with heroin and injection as the route of administration, which had low prestige among the adolescents. Despite these findings, adolescents' recruitment to drug use was the key issue in the political debate following the closure. We point to the shared rhetorical interest among important institutional actors in framing the issue in this way. The argument was also embedded in widely shared public representations of adolescents and drug users as passive and irrational.