Frankfurt Still Germany′s Drug Capital, But Learning to Cope | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 12.07.2008
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Frankfurt Still Germany's Drug Capital, But Learning to Cope

Frankfurt has long been struggling to contain its drug scene. New statistics suggest it's losing the battle, but the city's progressive policies towards fighting addiction actually serve as a model for other cities.

A junkie shooting up

These days, the drug scene is less visible in Frankfurt but no less present

Frankfurt is still Germany's drug capital, according to statistics revealed this week by the Federal Crime Office. 928 drug offenses were registered per 100,000 Frankfurt residents, according to the 2007 crime figures,

The reasons for this dubious honor are manifold: the city is home to a busy international airport, and also functions as a national railway and autobahn intersection.

It's a reputation the city has lived with since the 1980s, and it seems unlikely to shake it off in the foreseeable future. But one change is apparent: the addicts are getting older. One in four of the city's estimated 9000 addicts is now over 40.

This is largely due to the progressive support programs available, says Irmgard Vogt at Frankfurt's University of Applied Sciences.

"It's time to start thinking about old people's homes for junkies," she adds. "By the time they reach sixty, a drug addict is likely to be very frail."

Meanwhile, Birgit Wichelmann-Werth, who runs the outreach project Café Fix at Frankfurt station, has noticed that the place is a lot quieter than it used to be.

"Older people like a bit more peace and quiet and are more unwilling to be alone," she explains.

Cleaning out the scene

Someone snorting cocaine

Safe drug use is an important tool of urban drug polics

In the early 1990s, the city authorities under then mayor Andreas von Schoeler joined forces with police to implement a zero tolerance policy towards the junkies who collected in the public areas in Frankfurt's gleaming financial district.

Since then, the drug scene has been less visible but no less present. But although the battle to fight drug use might have been lost, Frankfurt has since gained a reputation as pioneering in terms of urban drug addiction support policies.

The last 15 years have seen social workers, lawyers and police flesh out a support system that has been fine-tuned over the years to successfully help mitigate the seamier side of addiction.


A Berlin street scene

Other cities such as Berlin have followed Frankfurt's example

The "Eastside" project in the industrial district of Ostend which opened in 1992 has since advanced to become Europe's largest rehabilitation center, and a flagship venture for drug addict support programs.

Here, users are given access to clean needles, beds, prescription replacement drugs, medical care and training and employment options.

Meanwhile, the central station now boasts a crack smoking room, while some 4500 users a year visit the city's several safe injection rooms, first introduced in 1994. The city also funds projects allowing addicts to be put on heroin maintenance therapy and methadone.

These initiatives have cemented Frankfurt's trailblazing status in the area of tackling drug dependency.

Statistics show that the number of registered first-time users is on the decline.

In 2007, 44 addicts overdosed -- compared to 147 in 1991.

Michael Tuchert, director of "Eastside," says the low point of the early 1990s is unlikely to be repeated. However, he's quick to point out that the future is far from rosy.

"The reasons for drug use are changing," he says. These days, he's observed, "people are unable to deal with society and they need to take the edge of reality."

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