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Germany

Drugs in Germany – Good News and Bad

Fewer people in Germany died of drug overdoses in 2001, according to a new study on drugs and addiction, but the use of “party drugs” like ecstasy is on the rise. The country’s drug report card was decidedly mixed.

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The use of hard drugs declined last year in Germany.

At least there was some good news for once. The number of deaths from drug overdoses fell in 2001 by 9.6%, according to the Drug and Addiction Report 2002. The consumption of heroin and cocaine also fell slightly. LSD lost a lot of ground.

It was welcome news, since the German government’s annual drug overview is usually one unbroken list of sobering statistics.

Despite the bright spots, there were some disquieting trends to be found in the report, which was presented by Germany’s drugs commissioner Marion Caspers-Merk in Berlin on Monday.

While she said a new general health awareness and more help available for serious drug addicts had pushed some numbers down, she added that drug consumption in Germany remains alarmingly high. The number of heroin addicts in the country is put at somewhere between 120,000 and 150,000.

Young Users

Caspers-Merk said the most worrying developments in 2001 involved drug use among young people, particularly consumption of the popular club drug ecstasy.

The number of people who took ecstasy rose 11% in 2001, according to police. It’s estimated that from three to four percent of young people in Germany are consumers of this "designer" drug or other amphetamines.

At the same time those numbers are rising, so is the tendency for young people to increase the kick by mixing risky drug cocktails, for example various combinations of cannabis, ecstasy, alcohol or tobacco.

"These can be especially dangerous, because the health effects of these mixes are unknown," said Dr. Volker Weissinger of the Düsseldorf-based Expert Commission on Addiction. "They’re harder to control and the effects can be unpredicatable."

Binge drinking among young people is also on the rise. One study showed that among 12 to 13 year olds, a full 8% had experience with binge drinking. That percentage jumped to 21% among 14 to 15 year olds.

"When they begin so early," said Weissinger, "the danger of their developing addiction problems later on is that much greater."

The Worst Offenders

The report saved its harshest criticism for the two addictive substances which are socially acceptable, alcohol and cigarettes.

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No other drug claims as many lives as these two substances. Every year, 100,000 people die due to tobacco-related causes; 40,000 fall victim to alcohol abuse.

In comparison, the "hard" drugs like cocaine and heroin killed 1 835 people last year.

"Alcohol abuse is still trivialized in our society," said Caspers-Merk. Its consequences, along with smoking, are underestimated and played down, she said.

Even today, eight-year-old children can legally buy cigarettes in German stores.

Prevention First

The drugs commissioner announced that the government would increase its emphasis on prevention, to try to reach young people before they become addicted.

"We’ve got to try to make it cool to say no," she said.

That could be easier said than done, looking at the general failure in the United States of Nancy Reagan’s "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign in the 1980s.

But the overall strategy, putting prevention up front, is a good one, according to Dr. Volker Weissinger. Germany just needs to do more of it.

"In the field of prevention, like imposing advertising bans and raising prices for addictive substances", he said, "Germany is certainly no leader in the field."

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