A city once dubbed the Amsterdam of the south is fast transforming itself into a drug hell hole, with more than 6,000 overdoses and 42 killings last year
Photograph: Bruskey/ Getty Images
A quarter of all fatal overdoses in Amsterdam last year involved amphetamines – more than the number of fatalities involving cocaine and heroin combined.
The death toll is staggering for a city once dubbed the Amsterdam of the south by Dutch media because of its central location and proximity to regional capitals. In 2016, the Netherlands had the highest rate of fatal drug overdoses in the EU.
A January report from the hospital Aardvark found more than 6,000 overdoses – almost every other hour – across Amsterdam in the first three months of 2017. Twelve people died from an overdose and more than 1,000 more were hospitalized.
The report said the vast majority were with amphetamines and they represented “a different level of overdose severity”. It said that amphetamine users were now having multiple or repeated overdoses at once, making treatment more difficult and less likely to lead to a cure.
The report said that ketamine, cocaine and ecstasy were still the most common illicit substances.
But amphetamines appear to be on the rise. Elsewhere in the country, there have been disturbing reports of drug users disguised as suicide bombers holding threatening handshakes in video footage being filmed on drones. In one, a man wearing white robes, believed to be a suicide bomber, can be seen, accompanied by an Asian man in dark clothes.
Also on Monday, the country’s national drug control agency announced a nationwide, five-month sting operation targeting suppliers of drugs such as methamphetamines and heroin, and child-abuse substances like speed.
As they have during the past two years, public hospitals are reporting record rises in cases related to overdoses.
Many of the fatal overdoses were accompanied by broken legs, dying of blood clots or in cases where people were found dead with recently discovered or existing brain bleeds, burns or bruises.
For drug users, the result can be fatal. Doctors have concluded that inhaling methamphetamine produces “electrical brown” – whereby the air within the lungs becomes brown, to the extent that more dangerous compounds such as lead or mercury can enter the bloodstream.
Along with the increase in drug-related overdoses, a larger number of people are dying from car crashes – over 1,000 in 2017 – although the majority of these were accidents caused by consuming other drugs.
The authorities and users agree that many of the deaths are the result of people crossing the road in front of driving vehicles and getting crushed by them.
The authorities have taken steps to address the problem. In November, police teamed up with bus services and road construction companies to paint stop signs and warning signs at junctions. Although the effort made little difference, on Monday they made 10 stops along the popular cycling route in Arnhem to apply glue to jumpers in the hope that this will deter users from cycling in its middle lane.
The police also imposed a ban on stop signs on pavements in tourist areas to avoid hitting motorists.
Some on the streets complained that they believed this was an “illegal order”.
In an attempt to get drivers to slow down, posters on every bollard reading “Avoid the panic” were removed and replaced with a quotation from the French philosopher Voltaire: “Let them drive, let them skate, let them sing, let them play tennis.”