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MedUni Vienna and the Sucht- und Drogenkoordination Wien gGmbH warn against new, synthetic drugs

In 2013 more than 573 new, synthetic psychoactive drugs have emerged in Europe.

(Vienna 25th June 2013) In 2013 alone more than 573 new, synthetic psychoactive drugs have emerged in Europe, which can mostly be ordered very easily over the Internet – and which are disguised on the  World Wide Web as "bath salts" or "fertilizers". On the occasion of the International Day against Drug Abuse on 26 June, the drugs experts at the MedUni Vienna in the Clinical Institute for Medical and Chemical Laboratory Diagnostics and the Vienna Addiction and Drugs Coordination body (SDW) are providing information about the potential dangers of these new, psychoactive drugs, also known as "recreational drugs".

Nearly every week a new drug of this kind comes onto the market somewhere in Europe, the composition of which is often not known well enough. "For this reason we do not know what the results of the consumption of these drugs will be, neither the long-term consequences, nor as regards potential acute toxicity. The risks of these new substances are not assessable and could be much higher than with the illegal drugs we already know," says Rainer Schmid, toxicologist and expert in the analysis of medications at the MedUni Vienna and scientific head of the "checkit!" prevention project, at a joint press conference with the Viennese drugs coordinator Michael Dressel at the MedUni Vienna. The "checkit!" project is being conducted by Addiction Help Vienna (a subsidiary of SDW) and the MedUni Vienna.

"checkit!": successful risk reduction
This is exactly what the "checkit!" project intends: to reduce the risk of taking so-called recreational drugs. "For one and a half decades, checkit! has been making a considerable and successful contribution to the minimisation of risk through its measures, counteracting the development of problematic consumption and dependency. This means, by working at events for instance where information and advice sessions are run, but also where substance samples can be tested for their contents. Particularly in this context young people are receptive for information on the risk potential of the individual substances and will address their risky behaviour. The aim is to reinforce the personal risk competence of those concerned. checkit! is thus an important component of Viennese addiction-prevention measures," emphasises the Viennese drugs coordinator Michael Dressel.

"It is primarily not about dissuading these drug consumers to stop at any price but, without repeatedly putting themselves in danger, to accompany them safely through a particular phase in their lives. This is because, once they become adults, in the long-term this group hardly ever takes drugs," explains Schmid. One thing is however clear: "It doesn’t matter whether we provide counselling or not, these drugs are always being experimented with and taken by young adults, but – without them receiving any more information – that is much riskier by far."

"The aim is to avoid problematic consumption patterns and dependencies, above all in young people. This succeeds best if you – just like checkit! – have a presence as close as possible to the risk situation and communicate on equal footing," underlines Dressel.

Anonymous tests at music events

checkit! has a presence mainly at music events (techno). Schmid and his team of chemists, together with the social workers from Addiction Aid Vienna, attend many of these events with an "analysis bus" and a mobile advice centre. Under the motto "Check your drugs – Check your Life" drugs can be tested by the scientists to establish their composition – the results are available within less than half an hour. The tests are anonymous and the results too are made available there and then anonymously. They provide the basis for the information and advice sessions with the social workers.

The substances mostly consist of synthetic, amphetamine-like drugs. Heroin hardly figures in this scene at all. If dangerous drugs are discovered at an event, checkit! is able to pass on an urgent public warning via the disc jockeys during the event itself.

Up to 100 samples often tested per event night
Often up to 100 samples are tested per event night. The results of the analysis give those concerned the opportunity of asking the researchers and social workers questions, discussing the situation with them and getting their advice. Says Schmid: "As we are coming into contact with those interested in drugs when we do this, we also have the opportunity to point out alternatives and to plant a seed of mistrust and caution in the heads of young, mostly non-high risk drug consumers."

"The message is that there is no consumption without risk. The consumer can, however, influence the risk – with drug checking amongst other things. Everything we do is aimed at minimising the possible damage for everyone – for the consumers as well as for society", adds Sonja Grabenhofer, the head of checkit!

A study in Berlin, which examined a similar project, demonstrates that precisely these on-site tests are effective: consumption takes place in a more careful and less risky manner. Young people, who are more critical when it comes to the consumption of drugs at the outset, have this attitude reinforced through this preventive measure. The reservation that young people and young adults could be encouraged to consume drugs by Drug-Checking has proved unfounded.

Results added to the Austrian drugs report

The anonymously conducted evaluations by checkit! are also fed into to the Austrian drugs report and are regularly passed on to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in Lisbon. This way a picture can be drawn up of which substances are currently in circulation in Austria and in Europe, and what characterises the consumers of these substances. As well as the on-site advice, checkit! also provides the possibility of a consultation in the drop-in centre at Gumpendorferstrasse 8, as well as an online and telephone consultation.

The website provides comprehensive information about (new) synthetic drugs, their effects, risks and dangers as well as the results of the drug analyses. An important principle in working with these consumers is the accepting attitude. Says Grabenhofer: „checkit! makes factual information available to young people and does not make moral judgements about their conduct. As a result, reflection on their problematic situations is made possible and the development of an addiction can be counteracted."

Medical University of Vienna – Summary profile

The Medical University of Vienna (MedUni Vienna) is one of Europe’s medical training and research facilities with the greatest history and tradition. Counting almost 7,500 students, it is today the largest medical training facility in the German-speaking region. With its 31 university departments, 12 medical-theoretical centres and numerous highly specialised laboratories, it also ranks amongst the most significant cutting-edge research institutions in Europe in the biomedical sector. Over 48,000 square metres of space have been dedicated to clinical research at the facility.

checkit! – Summary profile

checkit! is an establishment belonging to Suchthilfe Wien gGmbH [Addiction Aid Vienna non-profit Ltd], a subsidiary of the Sucht- und Drogenkoordination Wien (SDW, Vienna Addiction and Drugs Coordination), and covers a special field in addiction prevention. In collaboration with the Clinical Institute for Medical and Chemical Laboratory Diagnostics of the Vienna General Hospital, checkit! is conducting a scientific project to research current consumer trends with particular focus on so-called recreational drugs and new synthetic substances. checkit! has been providing information and advice on the effects and risks of psychoactive substances since 1997, as well as – on site at parties, clubs and in discotheques – a high quality, anonymous and free chemical analysis of psychoactive substances. Through this a significant contribution is being made to the monitoring of the "drugs market" as well as to addiction prevention.
checkit! provides educational and scene-specific knowledge about the risks, contents and effects of psychoactive substances, the formation of addictive behaviour and alternative strategies of dealing with the problem.