New ′legal highs′ worry drug watchdogs | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 11.11.2010
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New 'legal highs' worry drug watchdogs

The number of people using illegal drugs in Germany and Europe has very slightly increased, according to two annual reports. However both reports warn about the increase in so-called legal highs.

Ecstasy pills

Legal highs are often mixed to look similar to ecstasy

Over five percent of Germans say they have taken some kind of illegal drug during the previous 12 months, according to the German drugs monitoring body DBDD. The survey was carried out in 2009 and shows an increase of just 0.1 percent over the figures in the previous survey, carried out in 2006.

The annual reports of the DBDD and its European partner EMCDDA were published this week, and show similar patterns of drug use in Germany and the EU as a whole.

They show that levels of illegal drug use are relatively stable. In Germany, 26.7 percent of people surveyed had taken some kind of illegal drug in their lifetime, but only 2.6 percent had taken something in the past month.

"We can say that this is a positive development," said Dr. Stephanie Floeter, a research associate at the DBDD. "The consumption of many illegal drugs is going down and that has been the trend of the past few years."

The appetite for cocaine

Woman smoking a joint

Cannabis is the most used drug in Germany and Europe

The most popular drug is cannabis, with cocaine continuing to be the second most popular, both in Europe and Germany. There are at least four million cocaine users in Europe.

Although cocaine and amphetamine use has increased slightly in Germany since the last survey, the figure is no where near that of some other EU countries.

Roland Simon from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) said that, in their pan-Europe report, Germany was not one of the biggest users.

"Cocaine plays a really big role all over Europe. 1.3 percent of the EU population uses it," Simon told Deutsche Welle. "In Germany it's just 0.6 percent - so about half the EU average."

Simon added that big user countries like Spain and the UK are pushing the EU average up.

New legal highs

Both reports flagged up a need to be wary about new legal drugs that are becoming more common. These are drugs which it is legal to import and export, and which are often cut or mixed with other substances and sold on.


The amphetamine Mephedrone is one of the more recent drugs to become illegal in Germany

"There are always new drugs," said the DBDD's Floeter. "New synthetic drugs, drugs made from herbs and plants like the drug Spice, and ones that imitate ecstasy like PMA."

The pills containing PMA, PMMA or PCP are often indistinguishable from ecstasy and MDMA. The difference is that they are legal.

"It gives drug traffickers the opportunity for a bargain," said Simon. "They can earn the money without running the risk of selling illicit substances."

The drugs flood the markets before the law has time to catch up. Last year 24 new types of drug were identified, this year there were 31.

"The particular danger is that these pills have a delayed effect," said the government's drugs commissioner Mechthild Dyckmans. "People take one, then when there is no effect they take another. This has serious health consequences."

Author: Catherine Bolsover
Editor: Michael Lawton

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