Drugs: Any narcotic or addictive substance, in a wider sense also herbs and medicines. In a narrow sense, drugs can be classified as legal (alcohol, medicines, etc.) or illegal. The latter group includes both "soft" drugs such as cannabis (causing predominantly psychological dependence) and "hard" drugs such as heroin or cocaine, which cause severe physiological withdrawal symptoms.
The number of drug-dependent people in Austria is estimated at 10,000-15,000 (1999), with considerable regional variation. Drug-dependency increased in Austria considerably until recently, but has been stable for the last few years. In 1994, 250 people died from drugs, but the number has been decreasing and in 1998 came to 162, of which half were in Vienna. Among the dramatic social consequences of drug dependence are criminal offences (drug-related crime), loss of social contacts and health risks (AIDS, infection with hepatitis B or C).
Rehabilitation clinics and short and long-term treatment in therapeutic communities have been established to combat drug addiction (1998, 120 drugs counselling centres throughout Austria). Information campaigns and "low threshold" counselling centres promote drug prevention. The "substitution regulation" means that drug dependent people can receive prescribed "substitute drugs", intended to lead to re-integration and decriminalisation, together with psycho-social measures.
Criminal offences in connection with drugs and alcohol are subject to special provisions according to the law on drug addiction (in force since Jan. 1, 1998) and governed by the principal of "therapy instead of punishment" (termination of proceedings, suspended sentences in order to implement health-related measures etc.).
Literature: R. Brosch and G. Juhnke (eds.), Sucht in Österreich, 1993; D. Pfersman and O. Presslich (eds.), Drogensucht und Therapie, 1994; Österreichisches Bundesinstitut für Gesundheitswesen, Bericht zur Drogen-Situation in Österreich 1998, 1998; Bundesministerium für Arbeit, Gesundheit und Soziales (Federal Ministry for Labour, Health and Social Affairs (ed.), Jahresstatistik der Drogenopfer 1998, 1999.