Drug-related deaths on the rise in Switzerland
For the first time in six years, Switzerland has seen an increase in deaths from illegal drug use. The number of Swiss overdose victims went up by almost 10 per cent in 2000.
According to the latest figures, 196 drug-related deaths were recorded in Switzerland last year - 17 more than in 1999.
Fifty people died in canton Zurich, giving the region the highest proportion of victims, while canton Bern had the second highest number with 36 deaths.
Geneva and St Gallen both saw cases of deadly overdoses double between 1999 and 2000. In contrast, the city of Basel saw its number of victims cut in half, while canton Vaud saw a one-third decrease.
The situation in French-speaking Switzerland remained relatively stable last year, where several cities saw the number of deaths stay the same or even drop.
Federal health officials said the overall increase is not alarming. Georg Amstutz of the Swiss Public Health Office told swissinfo that "the number of deaths would have to reach 200" before the situation becomes a serious cause for concern.
Drug-related deaths rose steadily in Switzerland between 1975 and 1994 and a record number was set in 1992 with 419 victims.
Amstutz said the drop in deaths between 1994 and 1999 could be attributed to medical programmes aimed at helping heroin users fight their addiction.
The authorities estimate that at least 30,000 people in Switzerland are addicted to hard drugs, including heroin and cocaine.
However, they point out that overdoses are not the only cause of substance-related deaths in the country.
Around 300 drug abusers are believed to die each year from Aids, hepatitis and other diseases. Another 8,700 people die from tabacco and 3,500 succumb to illnesses related to alcohol abuse.
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