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Free drug check: protection or incentive?
In many European countries, such as Austria, there is a free service where drug users can have their drugs tested for contamination without penalty. This is to protect consumers from taking harmful ingredients that do not belong in the drug. A similar offer is now to be realized in Germany.
In numerous neighboring countries, people can have their drugs tested for contamination before use. The introduction of drug checking is also approaching in Berlin. But what is behind the concept that critics see as an incentive for further drug use?
Drug checking in Innsbruck
Manuel Hochenegger is sitting in a conference room just a few meters from the Innsbruck party mile. Best location for party people who want to enjoy life to the fullest. Hochenegger is well versed in the many facets of the intoxication: The 33-year-old is a drug advisor in Innsbruck and responsible for drug checking at the Z6 drug work.
The concept is also to be introduced in Germany
Consumers can have their intoxicants checked for their ingredients free of charge. A concept that could soon also be used in Germany. In any case, the federal government's drug commissioner, Daniela Ludwig, could well imagine such tests in the Federal Republic. But doesn't this even encourage the consumption of supposedly “clean” drugs?
Open attitude towards drugs
The drug checkers in Innsbruck, Austria, offer their inpatient consultations every Monday, two consultants are then available for detailed discussions. A look at the individual situation is always part of the test - and can sometimes take longer on the first visit. “The conversation is about the substances, hobbies, interests, the current life situation. We want to know the importance of consumption, ”explains Hochenegger. The consultants take an accepting stance. "We recognize that consumption can have positive effects for people."
Drugs often contaminated
The sample is later brought to the Innsbruck forensic medicine, a few days later the result of the analysis can be discussed. "It is not uncommon for us to discourage consumption after the test," says Hochenegger. Ultimately, however, the consumer decides what to do with the substances and the test result.
Based on the Austrian model
A few weeks ago, Drugs Commissioner Ludwig from Innsbruck also received reports on drug checking. Her conclusion was very positive at that time, since then she has been promoting the concept. "This can be used to reach consumers who are not addressed by classic addiction counseling," said the CSU politician at the beginning of the year at "Rheinische Post". She was already in contact with Minister of Health Jens Spahn (CDU) on the subject - even though the Union was actually always very critical of the subject. Drug tests have already been established in numerous neighboring countries such as France, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Drug checking is in the starting blocks in Berlin
In Berlin, known as one of the party and drug capitals of Europe, drug checking is just around the corner. The SPD, Left and Greens have anchored the introduction of the tests in their coalition agreement, the concept has already been developed. For the years 2020 and 2021, 200,000 euros each were earmarked for the budget; legal ambiguities were countered with an expert opinion from Cologne. Only the start time is still not announced. The CDU and FDP always criticized the concept in Berlin and saw the money invested better in the police or in prevention work.
Results also available online
Conceptually, drug checking in Berlin will be very similar to that in Innsbruck. “Drug checking is to be offered at up to three drug counseling locations. The first time you talk to an employee of the facility, the sample is taken and a consultation is offered, ”said the Senate Department for Health, Care and Equal Opportunities dpa. The result should then be available online, by phone or in another personal conversation.
Gain new insights into the drug market
"The employees provide targeted and motivating advice," said the Senate administration. In addition to providing information to consumers, the main goals also include new, scientifically based findings on consumer behavior and the drug market in Berlin.
How useful is drug checking?
Doesn't the drug check ultimately weigh consumers in false security? "There is no such thing as safe consumption - even if you know what the substances contain," says Felix Betzler, specialist in psychiatry and psychotherapy at the Charité in Berlin. And yet drug checking should be advocated from a medical point of view. The key word: harm reduction. "We know that consumption takes place. Then it makes sense if it takes place with the greatest possible information on the part of the consumer. ”In 2018, almost 1,300 people died in Germany from drug use.
Willingness to drug check is great
Betzler has researched several times on party drugs in recent years, most recently on the question of whether Berliners would accept the drug check offer at all. The study results, which have not yet been published, are clear, he says. “More than 90 percent of the approximately 700 respondents would use drug checking. And a large majority would reduce the dose if the sample contained a high level of active substance, or even refrain from consuming it if the test result indicated contamination. ”
Drug content has increased for many drugs
Interest in drug checking is also great in Innsbruck. After the start in March 2014, it took a year before the test phase with 100 samples was completed. In 2019, just over 500 samples from 150 to 160 consumers were analyzed. The drug advisors also know very well which substances are currently on the market - and that drugs have been stretched less and less recently. A finding that Charité expert Betzler can confirm: “In the past, an ecstasy tablet was a consumption unit. In the meantime, a whole tablet will lead to an overdose with inexperienced users. ”
Drug checking is not monitored by the police
The Innsbruck tests are financed by the state of Tyrol, last year 35,000 euros were spent on them. "In the beginning it was one of our main tasks to explain the checks at parties and to gain trust," reports Hochenegger. Of course there were also rumors of cameras in flower pots and cooperation with the police. But that is not the truth. "There are good agreements with the police - for example, that they are not in front of the door during our opening hours." (Vb; source: Fabian Nitschmann, Andreas Rabenstein, dpa)