Rise in drug-related deaths sparks calls for early intervention in Germany | News | DW | 08.05.2017
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Rise in drug-related deaths sparks calls for early intervention in Germany

The number of people in Germany who died due to illegal drug use rose nine percent in 2016, according to the latest government figures. Officials have particularly warned about the increase of drug sales online.

A total of 1,333 people in Germany died last year from consuming illegal drugs, government officials said on Friday while presenting the latest report on drug-related crime.

It was the fourth year in a row that the number of drug-related deaths rose - up by nine percent from 2015, which saw some 1,226 illegal drug deaths.

"The fact that the number of drug-related deaths has risen for the fourth time is not good news," the German government's top drug commissioner Marlene Mortler said while presenting the report together with the president of Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), Holger Münch.

"We need even more comprehensive assistance for addicts and their relatives."

Neither the call for a war on drugs nor the push for drug legalization will help drug users, Mortler said. "Prevention and early-intervention are key," she urged.

Men comprised 84 percent of drug-related deaths with the majority of deaths occurring in Berlin, Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate.

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Legal highs – drugs shopping online

Rising 'legal high' deaths

Mortler was particularly concerned about the particularly high rise of deaths from consuming so-called designer drugs or "legal highs." In 2016, 98 deaths from such drugs were recorded - almost triple the number the year before.

Drugs in this class, also known as new psychoactive substances, are often purchased through online shops as herbal mixtures, bath salts, air fresheners or plant fertilizer. Their exact composition is not usually known, presenting high risks for those who consume it.

Side effects from such psychoactive substances range from nausea and heart palpitations to unconsciousness and death.

For the first time in 2016, the number of people who died from taking synthetic opioids, or synthetic painkillers, was also included in the drug-related death count. A total of 76 people died last year from taking such pain killers.

To stop the spread of "legal high" drugs, Germany implemented a law in late 2016 to classify and ban whole groups of designer drugs - closing previous loopholes.

Deutschland Heroin sichergestellt bei Langenfeld (picture-alliance/dpa/Bundeskriminalamt)

German police seized hundreds of kilograms of heroin last year

Fighting online drug sales

According to the German Federal Criminal Police, the demand and availability of illegal drugs remains high in Germany.

Last year, police were able to secure 330 kilograms of heroin - a rise of 57 percent from 2015. Authorities also secured large amounts of amphetamines, ecstasy and hashish in large quantities last year.

Online shops present a particular challenge for police, as "drug trafficking on the internet continues to grow," BKA president Münch said. He added that weapons and other illegal goods can also be purchased through platforms on the darknet, which requires special encryption software or authorization to access.

Münch said the BKA wants to train "cyber cops" who can observe such platforms and identify perpetrators.

rs/kms (AFP, dpa, epd, KNA)

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