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HEALTH

Drugs and alcohol: Just how much do the Swiss consume?

Binge drinking is on the rise across the country - particularly amongst women - while the use of cocaine and ecstasy in Swiss cities is among the highest in Europe.

Drugs and alcohol: Just how much do the Swiss consume?
Two revellers from Basel, Switzerland, wearing traditional Basel city guard uniforms. Photo: SEBASTIAN WIDMANN / AFP

The figures, compiled by Addiction Switzerland, also show that while tobacco use has stabilised, the use of tobacco-related products such as e-cigarettes is on the rise – which the authors say may be because these products have been sold as healthier alternatives. 

Other addictions to prescription drugs as well as gambling and the internet are also on the increase, while the Swiss are consuming more and more new psychoactive substances which have been purchased online. 

World leaders in cocaine and ecstasy consumption

Although self-reported use of illicit drugs has been relatively stable in recent years, use of cocaine and ecstasy remains high in Switzerland – particularly in urban areas. 

This is backed up by the Wastewater Analysis Study by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which showed Swiss cities to have some of the highest use of the drugs anywhere in Europe. 

Zurich’s per capita usage was third in Europe, behind only Bristol and Amsterdam, while St Gallen (sixth), Geneva (seventh), Basel (ninth) and Bern (11th) were also high on the list. 

Image: European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Alcohol Addiction

For ecstasy usage, Zurich (third), St Gallen (seventh) and Geneva (eighth) were also high up on the list. 

Cannabis consumption has also been on the rise, with four percent of those surveyed admitting to using the drug compared with 2.9 percent in 2012. Addiction Switzerland estimate between 40 and 60 tonnes of cannabis is consumed annually in Switzerland. 

Switzerland also banned 13 new substances in 2019, the majority of which were purchased online and sent into the country.

Women have a growing problem with drinking

On the whole, alcohol consumption is steady in Switzerland. The average annual consumption is 7.7 litres of pure alcohol. 

Image: Sucht Schweiz/Addiction Switzerland

But problematic drinking is on the rise, with the number of young women who get drunk regularly doubling from 12 to 24 percent in 2017. 

Alcohol poisoning is also on the rise, up by 23 percent for men and 36 percent for women (both from figures from 2003). 

Smoking down, tobacco use up

One major finding of the study was that while people in Switzerland are smoking less, the use of tobacco products is on the rise. 

E-cigarettes, tobacco heaters and mouth tobacco (snus) are on the rise, particularly among younger people. 

While Addiction Switzerland argues that these products can help reduce tobacco consumption, there is a danger that people use these products under the impression they are healthier or not addictive. 

Grégoire Vittoz, the director of Addiction Switzerland, said in a statement that it was even more problematic as these products were less regulated: “the increasing variety of products urgently requires control”. 

Newer addictions on the increase: Prescription drugs, gambling and internet usage

Regulation on strong ‘legal’ drugs – i.e. those available via prescription or over the counter – increased across the board in Switzerland. 

Unlike in other countries, Switzerland is comparatively lax when it comes to regulating strong pain killers and sedatives. 

Opioid painkiller usage increased by 18 percent, while almost one in ten said they regularly use sleeping pills or other sedatives. 

The average respondent spends 122 francs per month on online games, while half of those who gamble do so with the Swiss Lotto. Casino revenue increased by three percent on the previous year to reach 703.60 million francs. 

More than half of Swiss (55 percent) played some form of electronic gambling game, while 16.2 percent did so frequently. Three percent of respondents – approximately 192,000 people in Switzerland – did so excessively. 

Image: Sucht Schweiz/Addiction Switzerland

Around four percent of those surveyed had what Addiction Switzerland called “problematic internet usage”, while almost nine in ten respondents used the internet regularly. Young people had the highest usage, averaging four hours a day. 

A version of this article was first published in February, 2020. 

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For members

HEALTH INSURANCE

What isn’t covered by Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance?

Switzerland’s basic health insurance is among the most expensive in the world, but there are certain services it doesn’t pay for. Here are some of the benefits the scheme won’t cover in full.

What isn't covered by Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance?

Basic insurance — KVG in German and LaMal in French and Italian —  is compulsory in Switzerland. It doesn’t come cheap, but it is quite comprehensive and includes coverage for illness, medications, tests, maternity, physical therapy, preventive care, and many other treatments.

It also covers accidents for those who do not have accident insurance through their workplace.

Basically, whatever the doctor orders is covered by KVG / LaMal, at least partially.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about health insurance in Switzerland

However, there are some treatments the basic insurance won’t pay for.

Experimental treatments

Any experimental treatments or drugs — that is, those not approved by the Swissmedic regulatory agency or the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) will not be covered.

This exclusion is not specifically Swiss; insurance schemes is most countries won’t cover unauthorised medical treatment either.

Dental care

In most cases, services such as teeth cleaning, dental fillings, root canals, tooth extractions, and orthodontic braces, are not included under basic insurance.

The only exceptions, according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), are dental interventions “necessitated by a serious disorder of the masticatory system, or if such treatment is required to support and ensure the success of medical treatment for a severe general disorder (e.g. leukaemia, heart-valve replacement)”.

Most dental treatments are not covered. Photo by Pixabay

Eyeglasses and contact lenses

Compulsory health insurance will contribute up to 180 francs per year towards glasses and contact lenses prescribed by an ophthalmologist for children up to the age of 18.

No such benefit exist for adults. However, “in the case of serious visual impairment or certain illnesses (e.g. disease-related refraction abnormalities, postoperative alterations or corneal disease), compulsory health insurance will, regardless of age, make higher contributions towards medically prescribed spectacle and contact lenses”, FOPH says.

READ MORE: Reader question: Can Swiss health insurance exclude me if I have pre-existing conditions?

Ambulance

Emergency vehicles that transport you to a hospital can be quite expensive — depending on the canton, the costs can range from 900 to 2,000 francs per trip. 

Basic health insurance will contribute a certain amount  to the cost of emergency transportation, but only if it is a medical necessity — a serious accident, an illness, or a life-threatening situation. But if the patient could have travelled by private car or public transport, basic health insurance policies will pay nothing.

Insurance will cover some of the cost of ambulance transport only in emergency. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Private hospital room

While the cost of your hospitalisation will be fully covered, the basic insurance does not pay for a private room.

You will be accommodated in a room with other patients.

Depending on a medical facility — whether it’s a small hospital or a large, university medical centre, you could end up with just one other person or possibly four or five, the latter being common in teaching hospitals.

If you insist on a private accommodation, you will have to pay for it out of your own pocket.

Reader question: Can Swiss health insurance exclude me if I have pre-existing conditions?

Vaccines

Immunisations outlined by FOPH  will be paid for by insurance, as will the Covid vaccine.

Not covered, however, are travel-related vaccinations or preventive measures, such as against yellow fever or malaria.

Treatment abroad

Outside Switzerland, only emergency care is covered  — double the amount that the same treatment would cost in Switzerland.

Usually, basic health insurance will not cover transportation costs back to Switzerland, except in case of emergency, when it will cover 50 percent of the total cost of transportation to the nearest hospital abroad — but no more than 500 francs per year. 

If you only have a basic insurance policy and travel abroad often, especially to the United States, you should take out a travel insurance that will cover you for illness and accidents in foreign countries above and beyond what your Swiss carrier will pay.

And if you want to upgrade your treatment options, consider taking out a supplemental insurance or, if you can afford it, private one.

READ MORE: Should you buy supplemental health insurance in Switzerland?

You can find out more about what KVG / LaMal will and will not cover here.

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