Drug-related deaths in Switzerland last year fell for the first time in 16 years.
The total number of fatal overdoses during 2002 was 158, whereas in 2001, the figure was higher at 198.
The downward trend was observed nationwide, with the exception of the canton of Geneva where drug overdoses claimed 20 lives, five more than in 2001.
The country's capital, Bern, also saw a slight increase in figures.
However, it was due mainly to the cantons of Zurich and St Gallen that the nationwide total decreased.
Last year, nine people died from a drugs overdose in St Gallen, compared with 21 the previous year. Zurich recorded 14 fewer fatalities last year.
However, the canton still held the dubious honour of having the most drug-related deaths in the country.
Fifty people lost their lives to drugs in the canton in 2002, accounting for nearly a third of the nationwide total. The majority of casualties were found in the city of Zurich.
Shattering the nationwide trend, Geneva experienced the highest rise in overdose fatalities between 2001 and 2002. It registered 20 deaths last year - an increase of five deaths on 2001.
Reasons for downturn
Markus Jann, head of the drug intervention section at the Federal Office of Public Health, told swissinfo there were a number of reasons for the decrease.
First, he said, the establishment of injection rooms had contributed to decreasing the death toll. These facilities help teach drug addicts to inject themselves safely.
Another reason for the downturn was the number of programmes designed to avoid HIV/Aids and to control heroin abuse, such as needle-exchange and heroin prescription schemes.
However, the fall in the death toll does not necessarily mean that drug abuse is on the decline in Switzerland.
Jann also said that changing consumer habits meant that heroin was no longer the drug of choice for users.
So-called designer drugs, such as cocaine, are thought to be gaining in popularity as they do not require injecting and can be smoked.
Such use, it is said, rarely results in a fatal overdose.
swissinfo with agencies
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