Europe’s drugs problem is becoming increasingly complex with new challenges emerging that raise concerns for public health. This is according to the European Drug Report 2014: Trends and developments released May 27th by the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) in Lisbon.
In its annual review of the drugs problem, the agency again describes an overall stable situation, with some positive signs in relation to the more established drugs.
But this is counter-balanced by new threats posed by synthetic drugs, including stimulants, new psychoactive substances and medicinal products, all of which are becoming more prominent in a changing European drug market.
'I am deeply concerned that the drugs consumed in Europe today may be even more damaging to users' health than in the past. There are signs that the ecstasy and cannabis sold on the street are getting stronger. I also note that the EU Early Warning System, our first line of defenseagainst 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’
Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Home Affairs
Overview of the Long-Term Drug-Related Trends and Developments
Heroin in decline, but replacement substances cause concern
Latest data point to a downward trend in the use and availability of this drug; however the report raises concerns over heroin being replaced by other substances, such as synthetic opioids produced illicitly or diverted from medical sources (e.g. fentanyls, methadone and buprenorphine).
Drug-related deaths: overall reduction, but rises in some countries
The number of overdose deaths has decreased from 7,100 in 2009 to around 6,100 cases in 2012. Nevertheless, in contrast to an overall encouraging European trend, overdose deaths remain high, or are increasing, in some countries. Rates over 50 deaths per million were reported in Estonia, Norway, Ireland, Sweden and Finland.
HIV: outbreaks in some countries impact negatively on EU trend
While large gains have been made within the EU in addressing HIV infection among IVDUs, latest findings show that developments in some countries (in Greece, Romania and some Baltic countries) are impacting negatively on the long-term decline in the number of new HIV diagnoses.
Stimulants: cocaine stable or declining, but concerns around methamphetamine and MDMA
Cocaine remains the most commonly used illicit stimulant drug in Europe;however the report is suggesting increased availability of methamphetamine and the re-emergence of high-qualtiy ecstasy (MDMA) powder and pills.
New psychoactive substances: EU Early Warning System ‘under increasing pressure’
The rise in the number, type and availability of new psychoactive substances (NPS or ‘new drugs’) in Europe shows no signs of abating, says the EMCDDA. In 2013, 81 new drugs were notified, bringing the number of new substances monitored by the agency to over 350.
Cannabis: controversies, contrasts, contradictions
Surveys suggest that cannabis is still the drug that polarises public opinion the most. This contributes to a lively public debate, which has recently been fuelled by international developments in how cannabis availability and use are controlled. European discussions on cannabis control have tended to focus on targeting drug supply and trafficking rather than on personal use. However, the overall number of possession and use offences related to cannabis has been rising steadily for nearly a decade.