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Type of submission: Oral
Conference track: Advocacy
Topics: Community Mobilisation and Organising; Drug Policy Reform and Advocacy
Presenting author: Riikka Perälä
Riikka Perälä, Kari Vuorinen
Issue: Ombudsman Activity for Substance Users (later “Substance Ombudsman”) is non-governmental judicial counselling and development work dedicated to promoting the rights of people suffering from substance abuse problems to proper and sufficient substance abuse treatment services in Finland.The services are anonymous and independent from the work of public authorities and service producers. The work is funded by the National Slot Machine Association. Setting: The presentation goes through the central activities of substance ombudsman and outcomes of the work from its beginning in 1995 to present. The position and role of the work in the Finnish service system is addressed as well as the typical target groups in need of substance ombudsman’s services. The importance of judicial framework in the development of the substance abuse treatment services is highlighted with the help of concrete examples of advocacy, consulting and development work done on the individual, community and societal level. Outcomes: During the 20 years of its existence substance ombudsman has been successful in bringing citizens’ rights to the fore while discussing about substance abuse treatment services and their development in Finland. The work has also initiated important legislative changes (related to e.g. opioid substitution treatment) by successfully combining individual level judicial counselling work with development and advocacy work targeted to national legislation and service structures. Furthermore, the work has ad an important role in making central legislation and its application understandable to citizens, service professionals, public authorities and decision-makers. The non-governmental nature of the work has been important in situations, where public authorities and citizens’ have had differing views about the need of services, their quality as well as their scope.