According to a new report by the Drug Commissioner of the Federal Government in Germany, cheap synthetic drugs, often referred to as “legal highs” since there is no legislation prohibiting such substances, pose a high risk to the drug users who often underestimate the effect and the potency of such drugs.
According to the new research, the number of the fatal drug overdoses rose by nine percent from the past year in Germany, and this number increased by more than 60 percent just in Freiburg, the fourth largest city in the state of Baden-Württemberg. What is new for the police is that consumers of “legal highs” are among the deceased. These synthetic, partly legally available drugs can be purchased from both legal and illegal sellers on the internet (both on the “normal” part of the web and on the darknet), Police reported that these drugs are often containing unknown substances, which can have a life-threatening effect on the users. These legal highs, are often not subject to any law and are misjudged by their consumers. Achim Hummel, Head of Criminal Investigation Department in the Fourth District where most of the drug-related deaths happened, said that such substances are most popular among the circles of young people.
The statistics for the year of 2016 in Freiburg had worsened to the figures of 2012 and 2013 with 10 drug-related fatalities. In the past decade, the worst year was 2008 with 23 fatal overdoses. Most of the narcotic-related deaths occurred when users took drugs in combination with other substances.
Thomas Schönefeld, head of the narcotic department at the local police, sees a “positive development” the use of drugs. According to him, heroin use has decreased in the recent years, however, the number of prosecutions in the city increased by 62 percent. According to Schönefeld, the distribution channels had moved from the classic street deals to the internet, and more importantly, to the dark web.
“You do not have any special knowledge [to acquire the drugs]. Psychoactive substances are easy to get. For harder drugs, however, one would have to search in the encrypted darknet,” Schönefeld said in a statement.
The fact that legal highs are dangerous is one thing. However, law enforcement authorities are also worried about the fact that the legislation on the continual development of the synthetic substances is being pursued. Because of this gap, the police are still able to confiscate legal highs from the users, which have not yet been subject to a legal prohibition. Law enforcement authorities can seize such drugs to investigate whether they contain any illicit substances. They often send the narcotics to the forensic department of the police for further examination.
The police reported a major increase in the trade, and especially in the acquisition and possession of cannabis. Schönefeld claimed that the drug does not necessarily need to be imported, but it can also be planted and cultivated in apartments and houses. The public debate on the legalization could play a part in the increasing use of the substance, the police official added. School psychologist Jeanette Piram from the Drug Aid in Freiburg sees a similar situation. She discussed with the students in school classes who thought cannabis use was “self-evident” and did not feel any sense of injustice for the use of the drug. According to Piram, if someone had a few plants at home, the teenagers would find no problem, usually, they would not know that doing such activity is not legal.
Police also disclosed some statistics on the drug use in Freiburg. The number of drug addicts in the city has risen by 2.6 percent (1,827 cases) in 2016, and by more than 14 percent in the previous year. In cases of acquisition and possession, cannabis leads with 1,020 legal procedures, followed by amphetamine and methamphetamine (crystal meth) (101 cases), cocaine (66 cases) and heroin (47 cases). In the instance of cocaine, the number of offenses has doubled since 2015, and for heroin by 62 percent. Cannabis is also the most widely used drug in Freiburg (281 cases). This shows an increase of 12.4 percent compared to 2015.