Pubdate: Tue, 24 Sep 2002
Source: Reuters (Wire)
Copyright: 2002 Reuters Limited
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BERLIN (Reuters Health) - Safe centers where addicts can take drugs under
medical supervision are helping the war on addiction, according to a new
report from the German Health Ministry.

Research shows the centers are helping to reduce the number of drug-related
deaths and encouraging addicts to quit.

Presenting the survey, Marion Casper-Merk, secretary of state for drug
addiction, said: "Only those who survive have a chance of coming off drugs."

Centers have been running in Frankfurt and Hamburg since 1995, but the
scheme was given legal backing in April 2000 through a law created by the
current health minister. It authorized the 16 German administrative regions,
known as Lander, to open sites where addicts could take drugs under medical

The idea was taken up by most western Lander, with the exception of Berlin
City State, where a study is currently under way, and Bad-Wurtemburg and
Bavaria, which remain opposed to the project.

There are now 21 centers, one each in Aix-la-Chapelle, Cologne, Dortmund,
Essen, Hanover, Munster, Sarrebruck and Wuppertal; five in Frankfurt and
eight in Hamburg.

To evaluate the effectiveness of the scheme, the Center of Social and
Psychological Research (ZEUS) at Bochum conducted a survey of 19 centers
between November 2001 and July this year.

It discovered that out of the 2.1 million recorded incidents of drug taking
since 1995, nearly 5,500 needed emergency medical attention and in every
case the addict was saved.

More than half the addicts interviewed by researchers said they had made
contact with withdrawal programs since attending the centers, in particular
with detoxification centers (23%), healthcare centers (20%), and hospitals

The most common user was identified as male, dependent on heroin for 12.5
years on average, and also using cocaine. Casper-Merk emphasized this type
of addict was recognized as being the most difficult to reach through other

None of the centers reported the presence of minors.

According to Casper-Merk, the centers provide a neutral environment for
healthcare workers to make first contact with drug addicts, enabling them to
then explain the various options available to those who want to come clean.

The secretary of state now intends to carry out research into why women are
less likely to participate in the safe houses, compared to other drug
initiatives, and to review health risks in the centers, in particular the
risk of transmission of hepatitis B.
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