Politicians aim to end spread of crystal meth | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 15.02.2013
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Politicians aim to end spread of crystal meth

German and Czech interior ministers are teaming up to combat spread of the drug crystal methamphetamine, which has been making its way over the Czech border and landing in the German states of Bavaria and Saxony.

The drug crystal meth, also known as crystal speed or methamphetamine, makes short work of destroying the lives of its consumers: A single dose can cause addiction. Effects of use can range from rotten teeth and gums (so-called meth mouth), to sleep disturbances and hallucinations, or even brain hemorrhage and heart failure.

Abuse of crystal meth is a growing problem in the eastern German state of Saxony and in eastern Bavaria, where addicts and those in search of a thrill cross the border to obtain the drug, which is still illegal but cheap and easy to purchase.

Reversing the upswing

The situation may soon change. Interior ministers Hans-Peter Friedrich of Germany and Jan Kubice of the Czech Republic convened at a joint conference on Thursday in Prague. Their state-level counterparts from the German states most affected by the drug trade, Saxony and Bavaria, were also present.

But Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann told DW that the focus is on strengthening the cooperation of security agencies on the Czech and German sides.

"Our goal is very clear ... we can put a stop to the noticeable increase in production and sale of crystal speed," he said. "We want to turn the corner as soon as next year so that crystal speed production decreases, which will lead to a decrease in consumption."

Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann

Herrmann has declared war against crystal

In Bavaria alone, the number of known users has increased by more than 15 percent in a single year: In 2011 there were 1,832 people caught with the drug, while in 2012, that number was 2,123, Herrmann said. He added that while in 2011 around 11.7 kilograms (26 pounds) of crystal meth were seized by authorities, the amount jumped to 14 kilograms in 2012, which is enough to make about 140,000 individual doses.

From medicine to party drug

Crystal meth - which can be smoked, snorted, ingested orally or injected - is often taken at parties. A high can last up to 30 hours, during which one is imbued with a sense of boldness and can party without fatigue or hunger - before the crash comes.

Due to these properties, during World War II crystal was widely distributed (under the name Pervitin) as a stimulant for the German army. Rainer Kasecker, national official for the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, said Pervitin was also available in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. "Correspondingly, a consumer market was established," Kasecker told DW.

Ingredients needed to produce crystal meth are present in drain cleaners or available in over-the-counter cold medications. According to Kasecker, after the opening of European borders per the Schengen Agreement, "trade structures" emerged in the Czech Republic, due to the relatively cheaper prices enticing consumers from neighboring Germany. This situation was made easier in that possession of up to two grams of methamphetamine is considered a misdemeanor under Czech law - although this may soon change.

Herrmann welcomed that police and the interior minister in the Czech Republic are considering cracking down on crystal meth, including a proposal to reduce the upper limit for legal possession of meth for personal use to 0.5 grams.

Spreading to other states

But possession limits are meaningless for German meth addicts, with the close proximity of meth labs in the Czech Republic. Heike Wilsdorf, a press spokesperson for the central customs office in Dresden, said their division is confronted with this problem daily.

"Consumers and dealers can obtain crystal at relatively cheap prices directly from the producers," she said. "This doesn't even have to be large quantities, as they can just hop across the border pretty much every week."

Meth crystals in a baggie next to battery

Crystal meth is often smuggled past German customs officials inside of fake batteries

As it has in Bavaria, consumption of crystal meth has also been increasing in Saxony. In Dresden, the state capital, the customs agency reported a 60 percent increase in the number of methamphetamine investigations initiated in their jurisdiction from 2011 to 2012.

Wilsdorf said crystal meth is no longer a regional problem. The drug's use is spreading into other German states including Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Brandenburg, Lower Saxony and Berlin.

What is especially tragic about the spread of crystal meth is that young people who try out the drug while partying may never get off of it - recidivism rates for methamphetamine abusers are upwards of 80 percent, Wilsdorf said.

"Those affected tell us that the only way detox that works is not to start," the spokeswoman said. "Crystal is not a drug you can just try out because the first dose can get you addicted."

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