Who was Aimo Koivunen? He was a soldier who fought for the Finnish army in World War II (WW2) and became popular as the first documented case of a soldier overdosing on methamphetamine during combat. It was his case that later popularised the phrase “methed up”.
Part of Koivunen’s story covers both his adventures during the Second World War, his later life, death and his influence on modern pop culture. We will also look at facts surrounding methamphetamine such as; its chemical composition, medical applications and side effects. To begin, we summarised ten major facts about the soldier.
Top ten facts about Aimo Koivunen
- Aimo Koivunen was born on 17 October 1917 in Alastaro, a former town of Finland that was merged into the town of Loimaa on 1 January 2009. He later died at the age of 71.
- He was born in the Grand Duchy of Finland which ceased to exist in 1917 with the Finnish Declaration of Independence and the Russian Empire collapse.
- In 1939, he joined the Finnish army as a soldier at the age of 22 at the beginning of World War II.
- Koivunen was assigned to a ski patrol on 20 April 1944 with other soldiers. Ski patrols were important aspects of the war between Finland and the former Soviet Union.
- Finland and the Soviet Union had started fighting during the Winter War in 1939 and it resumed in 1941 when the Finnish army joined the Nazi Germany troops during the Second World War.
- During World War II, a Berlin-based pharmaceutical company named Temmler produced methamphetamine (or meth) and sold it in tablet form under the brand name Pervitin.
- German troops (and by extension Finnish soldiers) carried Pervitin as a stimulant to stay awake for prolonged periods but they were discouraged from using it during combat because of its side effects.
- Soviet forces ambushed Koivunen and his fellow officers and while they fled for their lives, he was carrying his group’s supply of methamphetamine.
- To keep going and outrun his attackers, he took all 30 capsules of Pervitin when a single capsule proved too difficult to pull out; the overdose drove him for almost two weeks on his own.
- Koivunen survived on pine buds and a Siberian jay which he caught and ate raw. When he was discovered, his right leg was blown off and he was severely injured.
Aimo Allan Koivunen was born on 17 October 1917 in Alastaro, a former town of Finland that was merged into the town of Loimaa on 1 January 2009. Koivunen’s birth coincided with the end of the Grand Duchy of Finland and the Finnish Declaration of Independence when the Russian Empire collapsed. Thus, his place of birth is still recorded as Alastaro, Grand Duchy of Finland.
There are no details about his family and background. No doubt, like many young boys his age, he had dreamed of joining the army. When he came of age, this was exactly what he did.
In 1939, Aimo Koivunen joined the Finnish army as a soldier. He joined at the beginning of World War II, also popularly called the Second World War. It was also around the time that the Winter War began; when the Soviet Union (USSR) army invaded Finland. The Winter War ended in March 1940 but World War continued and with it the Continuation War.
According to Wikipedia, ski troops had played a key role in the successes of the Finnish war effort against the Soviet Union during the Winter War in 1939. They were also used in the Continuation War, which included Finland and Nazi Germany fighting against the Soviet Union (USSR) from 1941 to 1944 as part of WW2.
All soldiers are trained in ski combat, and skiing is a part of the standard required training for conscripts in the Finnish army.
Koivunen was assigned to a ski patrol on 20 April 1944 with other soldiers. Three days into their patrolling mission, Soviet forces attacked them but they managed to escape. During their escape, they became separated from one another.
Since they were all carrying different supplies, Aimo Koivunen ended up with what he was conveying; an entire load of army-issued Pervitin or methamphetamine supply. Soldiers used the drug as a stimulant to stay awake while they are on duty. However, there are other things you should know about the drug first.
Methamphetamine (also called Meth)
What is Methamphetamine? This is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that is potent. It is mainly used as a recreational drug but some also use it as a second-line treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obesity.
There is a restriction in its prescription because of its toxic nature as well as because people could use it for recreational purposes as an aphrodisiac and euphoriant. Additionally, there are several substitute drugs that have equal efficacy.
Nevertheless, methamphetamine is trafficked and sold illegally with its highest black market activity being in parts of Asia, Oceania, and the United States. In the US, racemic methamphetamine and dextromethamphetamine (which are types of the drug) are classified as controlled substances.
In moderate use, this drug can elevate moods, increase alertness, concentration and energy in fatigued individuals, reduce appetite, and promote weight loss. It is reported to have the ability to increase energy and has been reported to lift moods and increase sexual desire.
However, high doses of methamphetamine can cause psychosis, breakdown of skeletal muscle, seizures and bleeding in the brain. Side effects of chronic high dosage of the drug include unpredictable and rapid mood swings, stimulant psychosis and violent behavior. Doses of 200 mg or more of methamphetamine are considered fatal.
Medical experts have concluded that there is a high likelihood for someone to become addicted to it after long-term or high-dose use. Additionally, withdrawal symptoms can be severe and could continue for months after the typical withdrawal period.
During World War II, a Berlin-based pharmaceutical company named Temmler produced methamphetamine and sold it in tablet form under the brand name Pervitin. It became popular among the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany because of its stimulant and its extended wakefulness effects.
Its side effects became a problem and the army started cutting back its usage in 1940 and by 1941, a doctor’s prescription was necessary to use it. Soldiers were still getting some tablets but under controlled distribution and they were warned not to use them during combat.
The army’s drastic decision on Pervitin was because soldiers who used it during combat suffered from hangover for about a day or two and they were unable to fight until they recovered. Also, some became violent and committed war crimes against civilians or even attacked their own men.
Aimo Koivunen takes Pervitin
While he fled from their Soviet attackers, Aimo Koivunen skied for a long distance but could still feel them coming after him. He was weary but he could not stop for fear of his life. Thus, as he fled, he tried to take a Pervitin pill to keep himself going.
Koivunen had trouble pulling out just one pill while he was skiing, so he just emptied the whole bottle of thirty capsules into his mouth. As expected, the methamphetamine overdose gave him a sharp burst of energy but it also made him delirious and he lost consciousness.
According to a Medium article, he kept skiing until he lost consciousness and his fellow officers took away his ammunition. Another report only mentions that he woke up alone on top of a hill without any supplies.
He mistook a camp of Soviet soldiers for his fellow Finnish officers and walked into their camp. On discovering his mistake, he fled from them again and his Pervitin-powered skiing capabilities proved too much for his pursuers that he once again escaped them.
The meth he had ingested kept working on him and he began hallucinating. He imagined he encountered a wolverine and fought it off. It ended up being a tree branch but he lost his wrist compass and backpack during the imagined fight.
He also found an abandoned cabin where he could rest and when he tried to start a fire to keep warm, he set the building on fire instead. Koivunen still tried to sleep in the burning building, no doubt enjoying the warmth. He only kept moving away each time the fire burned closer until the cabin collapsed.
He escaped and continued skiing, still high or “methed up” as people commonly say. Then, he mistook the North Star for a ‘distant light coming from a farm window’ and kept skiing towards it. Eventually, he encountered a German outpost that was out of use. He approached it and immediately stepped on a landmine that blew off his right foot.
Koivunen still managed to get to the camp’s door and tried to force it open only to set off another explosion that threw him backward and covered him partially in snow. He crawled out and into a ditch where he slept and fell into a meth-fueled dream.
Rescue (how Aimo Koivunen survived)
Aimo Koivunen had been eating pine buds up until the time he spent inside the ditch injured. While there, a group of Finnish soldiers found him in the ditch and after confirming that he was alive, they promised to get him help.
While he waited for them, Koivunen caught a Siberian jay that landed close by and ate it raw. He fell into another slumber until the Finnish soldiers returned and took him to a field hospital. The doctors measured his heart rate to be 200 beats per minute. Almost more than twice the normal human heart rate of about 60-100 beats per minute. He also weighed only 43 kg (94 pounds) which is far less than the average 82 kg (181 pounds) weight of regular Finnish men.
Aimo Koivunen was reported to have gone missing for about two weeks and had traveled about 400 kilometers (250 miles), over the rugged terrains of the arctic forest. He recovered from the ordeal and died peacefully at the age of 71.
That’s Methed up memes
As expected, Aimo Koivunen’s story has inspired a lot of pop culture movements. It has also birthed many funny memes such as the ones below:
Several “that’s methed up memes” are also about Koivunen and his story of overdosing on meth. Many have come to regard methamphetamine as the drug given to soldiers during WW2.
As we revealed in this article, the Germans quickly realized the dangers of soldiers going into combat fueled by meth and they sought to get it under control. Aimo Koivunen had ingested the controlled form of the drug that was sold in capsules under the Pervitin brand name. While he survived, his action is clearly not advised as the quantity he took could have been fatal to any other person given different circumstances.
Additionally, recall that the production, distribution, sale and possession of methamphetamine is restricted or illegal in many jurisdictions.