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First, the good news. Then the caution against overinterpreting it.

The good news is that deaths of drug addicts in West Germany dropped to fewer than 400 in 1981, down from 494 in 1980 and 623 in 1979.

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The caution, from officials dealing with drug abuse, is that the fall may represent not so much a gradual mastering of addiction as a simple shortage of heroin in the first half of last year. The officials regard overall hard drug consumption as stagnant or falling only slightly.

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