"Berlin Drug Checking: Promoting Safer Drug Use for Addicts and Reducing Drug-Related Deaths"

news 10-Jul-2023 Europe

Berlin's "Drug Checking" Initiative: Ensuring Safer Drug Use for Addicts

In Berlin, Germany, drug addicts can now have their ecstasy pills or heroin doses tested before consumption. This operation, called "Drug Checking," was launched in June in the German capital, which holds the unfortunate record for the highest number of drug-related deaths. With the "Drug Checking" project, initiated by the city of Berlin, authorities aim to limit the harm caused by drugs in the capital. In three centers, addicts can have their drug samples checked for free and anonymously before consumption to know exactly what they contain.

At the center in the Charlottenburg district, in western Berlin, consultations are held once a month by appointment. Consumers receive a personal and anonymous code and are then received by Conor Toomey. "We ask a few questions to find out where people bought the substance and what they think they bought. We collect a small amount in this sachet or pipette and send the sample to the laboratory," explains the supervisor. Since the start of the operation, 200 tests have been conducted in Berlin.

The samples are then sent and tested at the Berlin Toxicology Laboratory, in a small room no bigger than a kitchen. Stefan Scholtis analyzes around fifty samples of LSD, ecstasy, amphetamines, cocaine, and often finds impurities. "In more than half of the cases, there are mixtures, such as cocaine with an anesthetic that, at high doses, can cause heart rhythm disorders and lead to death," laments the scientist, who points out another problem: "The highly variable amounts of active substances. A pill can contain very little or a lot. The consumer does not know what they are ingesting."

This initiative is applauded by Bernhard, who is waiting outside the Neukölln center to have his sample tested. "In principle, we know the dealers we buy from. Obviously, they want to keep their clients and do not want them to die. But it can still be dangerous if we don't know what's in it. It's good to be able to do the tests."

The "Drug Checking" operation is intended to help combat the ravages of drugs, especially in Berlin, where 223 people died from drug use in 2021, a record number in the country. While some critics see it as an operation that could encourage drug use, Vasili Franco disagrees. "Drug use is a reality. We can prohibit it, we can punish it, but people will still use drugs," asserts the representative from the Green Party. "The role of politicians is not to turn a blind eye but to offer help. And if people are going to take drugs, they should do it as safely as possible."

The experiment is set to end at the end of the year, but due to its success, it could be extended or expanded to other regions of Germany. Ensuring the safety of drug use may be a controversial topic, but it is an important step towards harm reduction and providing support for those struggling with addiction. Berlin's "Drug Checking" initiative is a commendable effort to address the drug crisis and prioritize the well-being of its citizens.

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