While most of the one million people expected at Zurich's annual street parade will dance their way through town drug free, authorities are warning of the dangers of designer drugs that may be available during the parade, which begins on Saturday.
Traditionally, ecstasy is the popular drug at such events, but experts now warn that other, lesser known and potentially more dangerous drugs have reached the market. Dr Peter Iten, head of the toxicology department at Zurich's Institute of Legal Medicine, says new brands of amphetamines pose a particular worry, especially when users don't know exactly what they are taking.
"Sometimes ecstasy is sold and it is not really ecstasy. In my opinion the biggest danger is when amphetamines and methamphetamines are in the pills, because these drugs have a more aggressive effect, and are therefore more dangerous."
Iten has some advice for people who plan to use drugs during the Street Parade. "They should drink a lot of water, and be very aware of the combination of the physical effort they will be expending and the powerful effect of the chemicals they will take; it can be a very dangerous combination."
In a bid to minimise any harm caused by taking drugs at the Street Parade, the Swiss Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Abuse has set up a telephone hotline where potential drug users can get advice.
The director of the institute, Richard Müller, says typical calls include many from people who wonder what drugs can be taken together.
"For example many young people wonder if they can take liquid ecstasy with alcohol," says Müller, "and we always warn against this because it is very dangerous.'
"Furthermore we always tell people never ever to take drugs alone, but to organise a 'trip sitter' in case anything goes wrong. And we advise people trying a new drug for the first time to take only a half or a quarter of the pill, in order to gauge the effect."
"Don't mix drugs"
Müller knows that many people will accuse him of condoning drug abuse instead of urging complete abstinence, but he says he is simply being realistic.
"Of course, the primary aim is to discourage people from taking drugs", says Müller, "our main slogan is 'Don't mix drugs, just mix music,' but we have to accept that some people will still take them, and we want to minimise harm."
Müller also points to research indicating that over 80 per cent of those attending the Street Parade don't take any drugs at all. Organisers of the Street Parade are also keen to play down the drugs aspect. Stefan Aeppli, spokesman for the organising committee, is fed up with the amount of coverage the issue has been getting in the swiss media.
"The press are just looking for a story," says Aeppli, "and they have latched on to this one. We think it is a bit unfair."
Aeppli himself is looking forward to a perfect party, with up to a million participants, and he doesn't expect drugs to feature prominently.
"On the organising committee we are of course against drugs, and we think with such a big party in Zurich it's totally unnecessary. You don't need drugs to dance in the street; it's going to be a fantastic party, so what more do we need?"
The theme of this year's parade is "love, freedom and tolerance." Zurich's love parade is second in size only to Berlin's. It begins in mid-afternoon and will snake four kilometres around the lakeshore. It is the 10th anniversary of the love parade in Zurich.
By Imogen Foulkes