The arrival of new amphetamine-based drugs on the Swiss rave party scene is causing concern among drug experts and police in Switzerland. The "Thai pills" have a similar effect to Ecstasy, but the side effects are much more severe.
Since the start of this year, tens of thousands of Thai pills - so-called because they are manufactured in Thailand - have been discovered in Switzerland; far more than in any other country in Europe.
In March, police in canton Berne seized 44,000 pills in one raid alone.
"We are seeing more and more of them," says Judith von Ey, second-in-command at canton Berne police department's criminal investigation division. "They are being smuggled into the country in all sorts of ways. We are especially concerned because doctors and drug experts tell us they are so dangerous."
Thai pills are methamphetamines, and they are not as new as many people think. They were first developed in Germany at the start of the 20th century, and were given to German fighter pilots as a stimulant during the second world war.
More recently, in the 1960s and 1970s, they were sometimes prescribed as diet pills, because of their appetite suppressing qualities.
Now though, it is recognised that methamphetamines not only have dangerous side effects, but are also highly addictive, and they are illegal in most European countries.
Ruth Gaby Vermot, a member of the Swiss parliament and president of Contact, a Swiss counselling group which offers advice to drug users, is concerned that Thai pills are being taken by Swiss party goers.
"These pills make people very aggressive and violent," she says. "Consumers can't work or form normal relationships with others. But the problem is these pills are new, and young people like to try something new."
Evidence from Thailand itself, where consumption of Thai pills has reached epidemic proportions, shows just how dangerous the effects can be. Users of the drug have violently attacked others, have threatened to commit suicide, and have even taken small children hostage in a bid to get the drug they crave.
Roger Liggenstorfer, founder of Eve and Rave, a Swiss group dedicated to techno culture and safe partying, has also expressed concern about the arrival of Thai pills.
"The problem is, the initial effect is like that of Ecstasy. You feel euphoric," he says. "But after that it becomes very strange; you get very aggressive. It's a difficult drug to come down from, and of course if you want the euphoric feeling again, you have to take more of the drug. That is why people become addicted so quickly."
Another problem is the price - Thai pills are cheaper than Ecstasy, and so may be more attractive to young people who have less money to spend. "I think that's a big danger," says Liggenstorfer, "especially to people new to the party scene, who may not be aware of what they have bought."
Police in both Switzerland and Germany believe the Swiss drugs market may be being used as a testing ground for Thai pills.
Liggenstorfer agrees: "It's well known around the world that Switzerland is a rich country, where people have lots of disposable income," he says. "And in such a country, people naturally have more cash to spend on drugs."
So what can be done to prevent Thai pills causing violent scenes in Switzerland such as those which have taken place in Thailand? The Swiss authorities believe awareness is very important.
With the support of the police, Liggenstorfer's Eve and Rave group took a mobile laboratory to Zurich's street parade, and offered to test pills.
"We did 35 tests," says Liggenstorfer, "and in three or four pills we did find methamphetamine present. When we told the users: 'look, this is dangerous, this is the same as Thai pills', they decided not to take them. I think knowing exactly what kind of drug you have bought and what effect it will have on you is very important. It's a basic human right."
Parliamentarian Vermot's Contact group has taken similar action, going with mobile laboratories to rave parties across Switzerland to tests drugs.
"Of course no drugs at all is best," she says. "But it is not realistic. Prohibition won't work with young people. But with our testing we can take the opportunity to talk to them, and perhaps ask them why they think they need to take drugs. And at some point then, we can start talking about how it might be possible to dance all night without taking anything at all."
by Imogen Foulkes
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