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Alcohol threatens more - number of deaths rises in Saxony

Petra Köpping (SPD), Minister of Social Affairs in Saxony / Photo: Bodo Schackow/dpa
Petra Köpping (SPD), Minister of Social Affairs in Saxony / Photo: Bodo Schackow/dpa

The number of deaths caused by alcohol in Saxony is rising steadily, with alcohol consumption during pregnancy being particularly problematic. Cannabis consumption among the population is also on the rise.

The number of deaths caused by alcohol has risen steadily in Saxony in recent years. In 2017, 1009 men and women died as a result of alcohol consumption, and this figure rose to 1149 by 2021, according to the state government's new drug and addiction report. It was presented on Tuesday in Auerbach in Vogtland. According to the report, alcohol remains the number one addiction problem in this country. According to the report, around 420,000 people between the ages of 15 and 64 recently consumed alcohol at risk. This corresponds to around ten percent of the population. According to experts, it is particularly fatal when women reach for the bottle during pregnancy.

The report states that binge drinking and risky consumption are also widespread among women in Saxony. During pregnancy, this can affect the development of unborn children and lead to lifelong damage and behavioral problems. Experts speak of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). This is the most common cause of a congenital, lifelong disability. According to calculations, 500 to 600 children are born with FASD in Bavaria every year. Health Minister Petra Köpping (SPD) described these figures as "particularly tragic".

Cannabis consumption on the rise

There are different trends for other addictive substances. While fewer and fewer people in Saxony are turning to cigarettes, the consumption of cannabis has risen over a longer period of time. In 2009, more than one in three men (36.5 percent) and almost one in four women (23.3 percent) aged between 18 and 59 smoked tobacco. By 2021, the proportion had fallen to 24.5 and 15.0 percent respectively, according to the report. In the same period, the use of cannabis increased: for men from 4.7 to 9.5 percent, for women from 3.8 to 5.3 percent. Overall, almost 3 in 10 Saxons have tried cannabis at least once, and experts say that around 41,000 people have problematic cannabis use.

In view of the controlled release of cannabis planned for April 1, Saxony wants to put the brakes on via the Bundesrat. Köpping said in Auerbach that a motion would be submitted to the health committee. "Cannabis is and remains a dangerous drug." This is particularly true with regard to children and young people.

This is why the permitted quantity needs to be reconsidered, as well as the distance to children's and youth facilities. A longer period of time is also needed to prepare for partial legalization in order to establish more counselling services. The time until April 1 is too short for this. In her opinion, the release should not take place this year, said Köpping. However, she supports the general goal of decriminalizing cannabis use.

The increase in cannabis use, especially among young people, shows the failure of the previous prohibition policy, explained Petra Čagalj Sejdi, spokesperson for drug policy for the Green parliamentary group in the state parliament. "Legalization is an important step towards a realistic, progressive and humane drug policy that focuses on health, youth and consumer protection and curbs the black market."

Köpping: Addiction can occur anywhere

Experts have also observed an increase in excessive media use. The number of cases in addiction advice and treatment centers has roughly doubled since 2018 to 145 in 2021. According to studies, the coronavirus pandemic has also had an impact on the consumption of media and addictive substances. Due to the temporary closure of restaurants and entertainment venues, young adults have turned to alcohol less frequently, but to tobacco and cannabis more often. While there was no social reason to drink, cigarettes and joints were used to combat boredom and loneliness and to relieve stress. Media consumption had also increased due to limited leisure opportunities.

The report shows that problematic and addictive consumption is not just a problem for marginalized groups, but for society as a whole, said Köpping. "Whether at school or at work, in the family or in a club - addiction can occur anywhere." Prevention and addiction support services must therefore be developed further. According to her, there are 47 addiction counseling and treatment centers across the state of Saxony.

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