Source: Prague Post
November 29 2007
Author: Markéta Hulpachová
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On Nov. 14, police officers from the National Anti-Drug Squad (NPDC) busted a four-member gang accused of producing and distributing pervitin, a locally made methamphetamine. After what had been months of investigation, police had tracked the criminal group to a Brno apartment where three of the members were thought to be cooking up pounds of pervitin in a rental flat. “The suspects transported some of the drugs to Teplice, where they exchanged it for heroin,” says NPDC spokesman Bretislav Brejcha.
Although police are not yet certain exactly how much pervitin the gang produced, the incident exemplifies a current trend on the local illegal drug market: While other European countries register a growing taste for cocaine, it’s heroin and pervitin that remain the hard drugs of choice for local drug users.
This is according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), the European Union agency whose 2007 annual report, released Nov. 22, maps new trends in substance abuse and illegal drug trafficking throughout the EU. “With its stimulating effects, cocaine is very similar to Czech pervitin,” says Pavla Chomynová, spokeswoman for the National Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Abuse (NMCDDA), the EMCDDA’s local branch.
“Pervitin is relatively easy to get. Its prices are substantially lower than those of cocaine, so users seek it out more frequently,” she says.
While more than 4.5 million Europeans reported using cocaine in the past year, only one in 500 Czechs said they used the drug in 2006, the report states.
“The percentages of cocaine use here are so marginal that our institution had trouble incorporating them into some of the EU statistics,” says Viktor Mravcík, who directed the national research contributing to the EU report.
While local cocaine use remains relatively low, pervitin production and use are on the rise: In 2006, the NPDC registered 19,700 pervitin users nationwide.
Due to its ubiquitous popularity and highly addictive character, pervitin has not only made its way into small towns and dance parties, but is also rising in use elsewhere in the region. The report states, “Methamphetamines have become the No. 1 problem drugs for individuals seeking treatment in Slovakia, and a high usage level is now being recorded in certain subpopulations in Hungary.”
Since the 1980s, pervitin production has consistently risen. “Methamphetamine is basically a specifically Czech thing,” Chomynová says. While the origins of pervitin use can be traced as far back as World War II, widespread use was first registered during the 1970s and 1980s. “That was when the drug made its debut in closed circles of people who were able to cook the drug for their own use,” Chomynová says.
At the time, pseudoephedrine, the drug’s main component, was relatively easy to get. Until its plant’s closing in 2002, Roztoky u Prahy, a town 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) north of Prague, had one of the largest pseudoephedrine producing factories in the world, Chomynová says.
Even now, five years after the plant’s shutdown, “the individuals who cook and use pervitin are still frequently able to get the pseudoephedrine from freely available medicines,” she adds.
While the initial effects of pervitin are similar to those of cocaine, the long-term consequences differ. “Unlike cocaine use, pervitin use can cause long-term psychological damage, leading to certain types of psychosis,” Chomynová says.
Aside from the spreading popularity of pervitin and a stabilized but still high number of heroin users, the Czech Republic also tops EU charts for marijuana use among young people. On average, 13 percent of young Europeans have used marijuana in the past year. With a national average of 19.3 percent, the Czech Republic trails Spain with the EU’s second-highest rate of marijuana use among young people.
However, effective prevention has brought this trend to a decline, down 2 percent to 4 percent since 2002, Mravcík says.
Despite these trends, the overall situation in Europe may be improving. “After over a decade of rising drug use, Europe may now be entering a more stable phase,” the report states. Heroin use and drug injecting have become generally less common, and, following a sustained period of growth since 1990s, “new data suggest that levels of cannabis use may now be stabilizing.”
Still, these positive developments are tarnished by a sobering bottom line. “Europe risks failing to meet its targets to reduce drug-related deaths,” the report states. There are “between 7,000 and 8,000 overdose deaths per year, with no downward trend detectable in the most recent data.”
Markéta Hulpachová can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org