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Meth behind mass poisoning in Germany

Gabriel Borrud
September 4, 2015

Police responding to a call for help at a convention center in northern Germany found 30 people in a zombie-like state. It's not yet clear what exactly was going on, but it looks as if methamphetamine was involved.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Butt

It wasn't your usual Friday in Handeloh, a town of roughly 2,000 people in northern Germany.

At 2:25 p.m. local time, a call for help came in from the convention center. No more than 90 minutes later, 150 first responders including firefighters, Red Cross, emergency medical technicians, poison specialists and police were on scene to deal with what looked a lot like a mass poisoning.

In the end, 30 people were taken to hospital, displaying symptoms ranging from hallucination to breathing difficulties. They were between 25 and 55 years of age.

"Nobody was fatally ill," said Johannes Freudewald, spokesman for the district of Harburg to which Handeloh belongs.

So what was going on?

"What we can say at this point is that amphetamine poisoning was the cause," Freudewald said.

The spokesman stressed it was unclear how the poisoning came about, whether the drugs were taken voluntarily or forced into the system of those affected.

"We won't know for certain until we can question these people, but they're not much in a state for talking," Freudewald said, adding that interviews would start on Saturday morning.

Rauschdroge Crystal Meth
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Burgi

The popularity of methamphetamines is growing sharply in Germany, according to a federal government report issued this year. It said first time users of crystal meth (C10H15N - pictured above) had increased 5 percent compared to last year, and that meth use has been on a "growing trend since 2010 with alarming proportions."

Upon injection or inhalation of crystal meth, huge amounts of the known neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and noradrenalin are released, which induce a state of extreme euphoria. At the same time, however, the drug is also extremely addictive, and carries with it a hefty penalty in Germany. If caught with even 10 grams in the country, a person can face a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison.

Freudewald didn't comment on whether any investigation was underway. "We'll have to see what happens when we talk to these people," he said.