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Drug abuse in Europe under mysterious assault

Drug abuse in Europe under mysterious assault
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The European Union’s drug agency has warned that new substances may pose unknown dangers to public health. It also says austerity budget cuts and high youth unemployment are a growing challenge in the fight against drug abuse. The addiction monitoring centre informs governments about the relevant context, evolution and influences.

The observatory in Lisbon has just presented its annual report, mostly about problems but with some hopeful signs as well, our correspondent added: “… such as fewer heroin users and less being taken by injection. In some countries cocaine and cannabis use has also fallen.”

Consumption has either stabilised or dropped for more ‘traditional’ substances, and around half of Europe’s 1.4 million opiate users are getting treatment. That’s encouraging, but the centre said newly-developed and less-plant-based drugs had appeared, as Internet-selling continues to transform the market – including what people take and how they get it.

As part of the social cost, drug-users impose a heavy burden on health structures when they fall ill; as many as 80 percent of them, for example, are infected with hepatitis C, which attacks the liver.

The death rate among users is ten to twenty times higher than among people who don’t take illegal drugs.

The authorities say that in spite of policies showing positive effects, these are being overtaken by the supply of new drugs, and research into possible long-term health impacts is having trouble keeping up.

Ecstasy and amphetamines are among Europe’s most-consumed illicit drugs. In the period the report covers, it said four million Europeans used either one or the other of those substances.

But chemical groups they’ve never seen before are increasingly worrying the addiction centre. In 2009, it was monitoring 24 officially identified new psychoactive substances; now, 73 of them.

Of these, 30 are synthetic cannabinoids, somewhat producing the same effects as natural cannabis, but 19 of the chemical products are pharmaceutical mysteries.

We found out why that matters from a scientific analyst in Lisbon.

At the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Laurent Laniel said: “These are drugs that have appeared very recently, and that have no medical track record. The people who are producing them are very good in chemistry and so they are finding and selling these new substances that are not on the list. It’s very difficult to get any information about them because first you have to notice the phenomenon of their use, and secondly you have to know exactly what you’re talking about. The same packet of stuff that you buy will contain the drug ‘x’ if you get it in one place, and the very same ‘brand’ of thing, packaged the same way, bought somewhere else will contain the drug ‘z’. It’s not necessarily the same mix. Therefore, you get a whole pack of problems with these new drugs; they’re a serious challenge.”

To fight effectively, as the premise goes, you have to identify the enemy.

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