Health & Science

In Oslo, cocaine use among high school students doubled in two years

In Oslo, a survey of over 25,000 high school students shows a large majority doesn’t do drugs. But cocaine use doubled in two years.

Oslo, Norway
Illustration. Opera house in Oslo, Norway | © Gunnar Ridderström

A survey in Norway shows that the use of cocaine sharply increased in a few years among the teenage population in Oslo, Norway’s capital city.

According to Ung i Oslo 2023 (Young in Oslo 2023), 8 percent of upper secondary school students said they took cocaine at least once in the past year. It is twice as much as in 2021 and almost three times as much as in 2018, when 3 percent reported using cocaine in the past year.

Upper secondary schools in Norway are similar to high schools, with students usually between 16 and 19 years old.

Students in their last year of high school, 17 percent of boys and 8 percent of girls reported they had taken cocaine in the past 12 months.

Despite this sharp increase, the consumptions of alcohol and marijuana remain the most widespread and have remained relatively stable since 2018.

In 2023, 34 percent of Oslo high school students reported being drunk at least once in the past year, and 16 percent smoke hashish or marijuana at least once in the past year. Alcohol and marijuana consumption increased but only a couple of percentage points in two years, although percentage increases are more likely to be smaller the larger the population group is.

However, we take the increase in reporting of cocaine use seriously, emphasized Anders Bakken Anders, the head of the Youth Data Center at the Norwegian Social Research (NOVA) who led the research. Cocaine is an addictive and dangerous substance, which can increase the risk of serious injuries and accidents.”

The study was conducted by the research institute NOVA, which has been surveying Oslo youth on behalf of the municipality since 1996. A questionnaire was given to students of 83 lower and upper secondary school students between January and March 2023. It collected over 25,000 self-reported answers of 13-to-19-year-olds, accounting for a 69 percent participation rate.

For Willy Pedersen, a professor at the University of Oslo who worked on the research, the use of cocaine is often associated with parties. And the Russefeiring (the Russ celebration) is a period of particular risks for cocaine use.

In Norway, the Russefeiring is the celebration period for the end of high school before the final term exam. It lasts nearly a month and stops on May 17, the Norwegian Constitution Day, the country’s national day. During this period, students get dressed, have lighthearted challenges and pranks, and make some sorts of business cards kids like to collect.

But it’s also a time of heavy partying. And many buy or rent a vehicle or group resources to get a decorated bus, a “russebuss”, to party and drive to parties. “We know that young people on Russ buses are particularly vulnerable,” said Mr. Pedersen.

Cocaine use associated with parties and affluent areas of Oslo

If the young people in Oslo use more different types of drugs than in the rest of the country, especially illegal drugs, the report notes more striking variations within the largest Norwegian city. Young people in Oslo’s most affluent areas report better health, more physical activity, but also more drug use, including alcohol and cocaine.

The use also increases as students get older since nearly 60 percent of students in their last high school year (Vg3) in Oslo report drinking alcohol at least once a month. In 2023, 38 percent of boys at Vg3 reported cannabis use at least once in the past year. However, most high school students think cannabis should remain illegal in Norway, as only 37 percent favored a change, down from 40 percent in 2021.

Almost no young people are cigarette smokers anymore. In 1996, the Young in Oslo survey showed that one in four smoked cigarettes daily, which now only accounts for one in fifty teenagers.

Instead, the use of e-cigarettes quickly increased. In 2023, 17 percent of students said they used e-cigarettes occasionally or daily, up from the 5 percent who reported use in 2021, the first year e-cigarettes were part of the research.

A Norwegian characteristic is sniffing tobacco instead of smoking it. While nearly no young people used to sniff tobacco in the mid-1990s in Norway, 7 percent of students now sniff tobacco, with a minor increase since 2021.

Nevertheless, a vast majority of Oslo students didn’t report using any drugs. They also seem rather satisfied with their life. In the questionnaire, 90 percent of the students answered their life was good.

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