In Europe drugs problem is becoming increasingly complex with new challenges emerging that raise concerns for public health. While heroin consumption decline, and that of cocaine is stable, synthetic narcotic substances that are ever more powerful along with the increase in new psychoactive substances, most of which are manufactured in clandestine laboratories in the Old Continent, or imported illegally from China and India, ring a bell of alarm. Over 350 substances are known to date – 250 of which have been detected over the past four years – 81 of which in 2013 alone. This is according to the European Drug Report 2014: Trends and developments released on May 27 by the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) in Lisbon. “The EU Early Warning System, our first line of defence against emerging drugs, is coming under growing pressure as the number and diversity of substances continue to rise sharply. The system has already reviewed this year four new substances linked to acute intoxications and deaths in the Member States”, said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström. Heroin in decline, differences at national level. First-time entrants to specialist drug treatment for heroin problems fell from a peak of 59 000 in 2007 to 31 000 in 2012, according to EMCDDA. Over the past decade a 50% decrease was also registered in drug supply, confirmed by the quantity of heroin seized in 2012 (5 tonnes) compared to 10 tons in 2002. There are an estimated 1.3 million “problem opioid users” in Europe. Around 6100 overdose deaths were reported in Europe in 2012. “Figures decrease slightly compared to previous years”, “but the European perspective can obscure some important national differences”, warns EMCDDA director Wolfgang Götz. The highest death rates were reported in Estonia with 191 per million, compared to 17 deaths per million population, followed by Ireland (70 per million), Sweden (63) and Finland (58). Cocaine is stable, concern for the “new substances”. Cocaine remains the most commonly used illicit stimulant drug in Europe: An estimated 14.1 million European adults have ever used the drug; 3.1 million in the last year, but there are growing concerns about the use methamphetamine and high-quality ecstasy (MDMA), which prompted Europol and the EMCDDA to release a “joint warning”, while in 2013 Europol signalled the dismantlement of two major MDMA manufacturing sites. 81 new drugs were notified for the first time to the EU Early Warning System (EU-EWS), this brings the number of new substances monitored by the agency to over 350, almost 250 of which were detected in the last four years. New psychoactive substances, not controlled under international law, are often sold on the market as “legal highs”, states the report, “produced with the intention of mimicking the effects of controlled drugs” produced in clandestine laboratories inside Europe, or imported from China and India. The Internet continues to be a key “market”. In 2013, the EMCDDA identified some 650 websites selling these substances, while ‘darknets’ underground, online networks permitting anonymous communication represents a new challenge for law enforcement. In April 2014, the EMCDDA Scientific Committee risk-assessed four potent and harmful new substances: 25I-NBOMe, AH-7921, MDPV and methoxetamine. Risk-assessment reports on the four substances have been submitted to the European Commission and the Council of the EU, “on the basis of which decisions for EU-wide control measures may be taken”. Cannabis, scarce clarity. Cannabis remains the most widely spread substance (73.6 million Europeans have tried cannabis in their lifetime, 18.1 million in the last year; an estimated 14.6 million young Europeans (15-34 years), report last-year use. It is also the most controversial drug that polarises public opinion the most in terms of how cannabis availability and use are controlled, considering its undeniable harmfulness. For Malmström, “this information must now feed into law-enforcement, prevention and treatment”. It is essential that “we use these data to ensure that the response by European authorities keeps pace with the evolving challenges we face”. Götz calls for the strengthening of the EU Early Warning System “that may be at risk if inadequately resourced”. For the chairman of the EMCDDA Board of directors João Goulão, in the therapeutic support for cocaine, methamphetamine and cannabis addiction, and psychological and social intervention play “an important role”.
European observatory: increasing consumption of methamphetamines and ecstasy pills