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The article starts with a secondary analysis of data about the use of illegal drugs amongst young people in Germany and the Federal State of Saxony. Until the sixties the rate of drug use in Germany was very low, especially amongst the adolescents. With the onset of a new youth culture in the late sixties there has been an explosive increase in the use of illegal drugs. After a few years the consumption rates levelled off on a constant figure.
The early nineties saw a period of further increase which led to a rise of cannabis consumption in West Germany from 17% to 22% among the population of 12-to-25-year olds. In East Germany we have observed a quick process of adaptation which has in the meantime with regard to drug-experienced adolescents reached a rate of 17%. The consumption of hard drugs (heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy) is of minor importance. Depending on the substance used the lifetime prevalence rates of the group mostly concerned, the 18-to-24-years old persons, are between 1% to 3%.
Thus in Germany the use of illegal drugs lies far behind the use of legal substances, e.g. alcohol. In international comparison Germany holds the fourth place in alcohol consumption. With about 40,000 dead per year alcohol is considered to be responsible for a 20 times higher mortality rate than illegal drugs.
The developments in the Federal State of Saxony are influenced by the history of the former GDR. With regard to the period until 1990 we can hardly find indications of an existing drug scene. After the fall of the wall an explosive increase of drug use was feared which subsequently did not occur. Instead, a continuous increase above all in the user figures of the 12-to-17-years old youngsters can be observed heading towards the equivalent West German level. Therefore the use of illegal drugs is much more a youth phenomenon than in the West German federal states.
The development of drug criminality shows differing tendencies. They do not only point towards the true behaviour of the population towards drug consumption, but also towards the tightness of control, the pressure of prosecution and the readiness of reporting to the police. Drug related crime increased continuously ever since the introduction of the Narcotics Act (“Betäubungsmittelgesetz”) in 1971. The offence rates for the whole of Germany have risen from 84 998 in 1988 to 216 682 in 1998 taking into account that prosecution is handled far stricter in East Germany than in the West. Half of the drug offences are related to cannabis. Two thirds of them are related to the illegal possession of drugs, the others to illegal drug trafficking and illegal imports. Regarding gender drug related crime seems to be a masculine domain. Altogether the group of the 14-to-25 year olds is leading the statistics of all suspects with 61.5%.
The lowest level of drug related crime in Germany is registered in Saxony, yet with a tendency sharply rising. Ever since the beginning of its registration drug offences increased from 123 offences in 1991 to 4339 in 1998. More than in Germany in general the offences concerning illegal possession constitute the main share (77.9%) of all offences. And more than in Germany in general the adolescents are leading the statistics. It confirms that the tightness of control and repression in Saxony are relatively high. However, neither does it hinder the spread of illegal drugs nor do the figures altogether compare any better with the other federal states of Germany.
The reactions towards the drug problem within the German society comprise both repressive and preventive measures which can be ascribed to several distinct periods. Until the beginning of the Eighties “criminalization and deterrence” had been predominant: The introduction of the Narcotics Act (BtMG) and a strict prosecution practice were combined with drug curricula at schools to warn against the risks of illegal drugs. Lacking visible success prosecution was tightened up resulting in a kind of immunisation of the general population against illegal drugs, a continuous spread of drugs amongst adolescents and the social exclusion of the group of heroin addicts.
The second half of the Eighties has seen a changing attitude towards the strengthening of preventive measures and more serious considerations regarding the reasons leading to addiction. The change is indicated by the formal transition from “drug prevention” to “addiction prevention”. A formal differentiation between mere drug users and drug addicts has been introduced too. Drug use became recognised as a “youth phenomenon” of passing character to take care of particular functions in personal development. In preventive work these functions are to be replaced by offering “functional equivalents” in order to make drug use unnecessary. The approach of “functional equivalents” helped to push ahead a lot of practical activities. Yet the danger of “procedures at will” became apparent at the same time.
Despite the efforts for a more effective addiction prevention in the early Nineties the drug problem attracted new attention. With the help of a “National Plan to combat drugs” preventive measures were to be further extended. A wider concept of “addiction” has been introduced considering “addiction” now as a problematic way of behaviour in relation to illegal and legal substances as well as not relating to any substances (e.g. excessive TV-watching and gambling). Counteracting this behaviour addiction prevention is meant to strengthen protective factors like self-esteem, social competence and resistance against group pressure. Special “life skill-training programmes” for schools have been developed following the WHO-discussions on “health promotion”. In the meantime these training programmes have been developed further introducing strategies for networking with different institutions and “peer education”-programmes. Altogether a shift of perspective from criminal policy towards health policy can be noticed in Germany. At the same time there are still critical voices marking that the group mostly concerned — the group of drug-using youngsters — can hardly be reached by those conventional concepts of prevention.
Besides the shift to more a health orientation changes in the drug work have to be considered too. The fact that the criterion “abstinence” did exclude the largest group of persons in need for help from the support system led to new attempts of an “accepting drug work”. The spread of the HIV-virus in the drug scene since the middle of the Eighties was another reason for such attempts. Taking preventive action it too has more and more been recognised that an accepting approach is needed. This certainly accounts for working with youngsters asking to take on the youngsters own viewpoint. “Safer use”-projects and concepts for “harm reduction” have been established to limit health damages and prevent addiction following drug use. These kinds of concepts have had some success in scenes of drug users. Yet they are less oriented towards the main group of adolescents who use drugs and alcohol occasionally without actually being part of a drug scene. Recently singular approaches have come about with regard to this last group ascribing the task of addiction prevention to education. Addiction and drug abuse are to be embedded in a perspective of “cultivation” and “life design”. The use of drugs as an inevitable constituent of social life has to be cultivated in all societies in different ways and subsequently to be learned in the individual process of education. Some first projects acting within this framework try to develop a kind of “drug education” and initiate processes of self reflection by different methods.
The analysis of practical prevention projects in Saxony shows, that a general and co-ordinated prevention work has not yet been established. But several singular activities have come about within the last few years. Most of these activities serve primary prevention following the life skills approach. But because of a considerable enlargement of the Saxonian polices’ own prevention work a policy in the tradition of the delinquency perspective is still dominant. And although due to the increased spread of illegal drugs secondary prevention work too has been developed in Saxony which has in the meantime lead towards a more accepting, health oriented perspective, the constitution of a complete system of drug work including measures for rehabilitation and reintegration of drug addicts is however warded off in favour of combating the drug problem via the Saxonian states’ own strict drug policy.
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