Pubdate: Tue, 14 Nov 2006
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2006 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Tony Paterson
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


German police have claimed that the corrosive designer drug known as 
"crystal meth" was responsible for hundreds of self-destructing euro 
notes which have been mysteriously disintegrating in the hands of 
baffled shoppers and bank clerks since early last summer.

More than 1,700 crumbling 50 and 20 notes have surfaced in at least 
17 German towns and cities since June this year, prompting fears of a 
potential health risk and speculation about a possible blackmail attempt.

The crumbing note mystery, which causes large holes to appear in euro 
notes as soon as they are touched, prompted a nationwide 
investigation by police and the German Bundesbank, which has been 
obliged to take back hundreds of damaged 50 and 20 notes. Yet 
nobody blamed drug users for the problem.

Police and the German Bundesbank said they had almost certainly 
solved the mystery. The answer is apparently the designer drug 
crystal methamphetamine. Taken through the nose, the drug is rapidly 
replacing cocaine at parties and on the German club scene. Rainer 
Wenzel, a police forensic scientist who has been given the job of 
solving the bank-note mystery, said yesterday that crystal meth 
addicts habitually used a 50 or a 20 note to portion out and snort 
the drug because the notes had the right proportions.

"When a contaminated note comes into contact with human sweat, an 
aggressive acid is produced," he said. "If the note is in a wallet 
with a wad of other notes, the corrosion will spread to all of them."

Police said that although crystal meth had originated in the United 
States, where it has become the scourge of rural America, large 
quantities of the highly addictive and destructive drug were coming 
into Germany from Poland and the Balkans, where crystal 
methamphetamine was being refined and mixed with corrosive sulphates 
in the process.

Drug users in Europe should be wary: if the example of the US is 
anything to go by, crystal meth can prove lethal to rural communities 
not usually associated with chronic drug abuse.

Much more so than cocaine, crack, heroin or marijuana, small-town USA 
has steadily fallen prey to crystal meth, the effects of which are 
described by some as "having 10 orgasms at once".

Originally produced using over-the-counter medication containing 
ephedrine bought from local chemists, use of the drug has steadily 
increased over the past few years.

Although disintegrating 50 and 20 notes are a new phenomenon, the 
discovery of drug traces on bank notes has become routine. Three 
years ago German researchers conducted an exhaustive examination of 
600 euro notes. They found that nine out of 10 banknotes carried 
clearly measurable amounts of cocaine and concluded that they could 
contaminate notes in bank cash-counting machines.

Professor Fritz Soergel of the Nuremberg Institute for Pharmaceutical 
Research, which carried out the study, started examining euro notes 
shortly after the introduction of the new currency in January 2002. 
Back then, only two out of 70 notes were found to carry traces of cocaine.

He said that his findings showed there was a clear correlation 
between the contaminated notes and levels of recorded cocaine use in 
the 12 countries of the euro currency zone. "Much less cocaine was 
found on banknotes from countries where there is less cocaine usage, 
such as France, Finland and Greece," he said.

The worst offenders were the Spanish. Professor Soergel said he and 
his team of researchers were "almost knocked flat" by the results of 
a study conducted in Barcelona. "The concentrations of cocaine on 
Spanish notes were almost a hundred times that of what we recorded in 
Germany," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman