Deaths linked with use of ecstasy have increased in Finland

Publication date 8 Apr 2021

The number of deaths linked with the use of MDMA, or ecstasy, increased in Finland in 2001-2017. A recently published study examined the development of ecstasy-related deaths over a longer period in Finland, Australia, Portugal, and Turkey. This was the first international comparative study on ecstasy mortality.

In the period under examination Finland had a total of 100 fatalities in which ecstasy was either the cause of a fatal toxic reaction or was considered to have contributed to the death in some other way. 

Ecstasy mortality grew in all the countries examined in the study period. In Finland and Portugal wastewater analysis also confirms the trend of increasing ecstasy use. The length of the examination period varied among the countries, but the years 2011-2017 examination period was the same for all of them.

Infographic of mortality related to MDMA in the countries studied in 2011 and 2017. Content described in the text.

In 2011–2017 the trend for ecstasy deaths was the sharpest in Turkey, where the number of deaths grew from 0.05 to 0.37 per 100,000 inhabitants. In Finland, the number of ecstasy-related deaths increased more than threefold in this period from 0.09 to 0.33 per 100,000 inhabitants. In Portugal, the number of ecstasy deaths in proportion to population grew from 0.03 to 0,12, and in Australia, from 0,02 to 0,12 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Deaths are often caused by interaction of several substances

In Finland more than half of the deaths that were studied, 57 percent, were caused by interaction of ecstasy and other drugs. Ecstasy was a contributing factor in 30 percent of deaths examined when the cause of death was something other than a toxic reaction, such as a traffic collision or other accident.

“The study confirms an earlier view that although most deaths related to ecstasy are caused by the interaction of several substances, fatal poisoning can also be caused using ecstasy alone. The risk is increased by the observed increase in the MDMA content in ecstasy pills, which has risen from year to year”, says Forensic Chemist Pirkko Kriikku of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.

In Finland typical substances detected in connection with ecstasy-related deaths were other stimulant drugs, such as amphetamines, as well as opioids and benzodiazepines. In a third of the cases alcohol was also detected.

Finland had lowest average age of ecstasy-related deaths 

In Finland, the victims of deaths related to the use of ecstasy were the youngest of all the countries in the study, with an average age of 24 years. The oldest victims were in Portugal, with an average age of 28. In Finland and Turkey there were no differences in the average ages of men and women, while in Australia women who died ecstasy-related deaths were significantly younger than men.

“Previous studies showed that young users do not necessarily know the dangers of ecstasy, such as that of fluctuating potency of the pills”, Kriikku says.

Most of the victims of ecstasy-related deaths were men. In Finland and Australia men accounted for 81 percent of the fatalities, in Portugal the figure was 93 percent and in Turkey it was 94 percent.

Ecstasy confiscations in Finland rose in the examination period

In 2001–2017 the number of seizures of ecstasy grew, but the total amount of MDMA confiscated varied considerably from one year to another. No clear formulas or trends were seen.

The amount of seized ecstasy was quite small in Finland and Portugal compared with Australia and Turkey. There the greatest annual seizures were as much as 100 times greater compared with the highest figures in Finland and Portugal. However, the population sizes of the countries differ considerably. 

The study was published in the prestigious scientific journal Addiction. 

Further information:

Trends in MDMA-related mortality across four countries (scientific journal Addiction)

Pirkko Kriikku
forensic chemist
tel. +358 29 524 8054
[email protected] 

Alkoholi, tupakka ja riippuvuudet Main site drugs - thlfi-en mortality - thlfi-en