MDMA back in vogue as NPS numbers continue to rise

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The declining levels of MDMA use in Europe since the early to mid 2000s have been reversed, according EMCDDA’s annual drug report, with nine out of 12 countries reporting higher estimates of use than in previous years.

More than 2m 15 to 34-year-olds reported using the drug in the last year, it says, making MDMA once again a ‘stimulant drug of choice’ for Europe’s young people – both existing users and younger generations. Powders, crystals and pills containing high doses of MDMA are now more commonly available, with municipal wastewater surveys also finding higher levels of MDMA residues including ‘sharp increases’ in some cities – attributable to higher purity levels and/or increased use. In higher-prevalence countries MDMA is ‘no longer a niche or subcultural drug’, says the report, with high levels of use in bars as well as nightclubs.

The numbers of new psychoactive substances (NPS) being discovered continues to grow, meanwhile, with 98 substances reported for the first time in 2015 and the total number being monitored by the agency now standing at more than 560.

As in previous years most of the new substances were synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones, although the document also warns about NPS producers targeting ‘more chronic and problematic drug users’ with synthetic opioids, 19 of which have been detected since 2009. Eleven of these were fentanyls, which can be highly potent and ‘may be sold as heroin to unsuspecting users, posing a risk of overdose’, it says. In 2015, 32 deaths in Europe were linked to the opioid acetyl fentanyl.

Around 1.2 m people received treatment for illicit drug use across the EU in 2014, and there were 6,800 opioid-related deaths – slightly up on previous years – with ‘worrying’ rises in Ireland, Lithuania and Sweden alongside those reported in the UK (DDN, October 2015, page 4). Cocaine remains the continent’s most commonly used illicit stimulant, cited as the primary drug for 60,000 people entering treatment, while levels of cannabis use are also rising in some countries.

‘The revival of MDMA brings with it the need to rethink existing prevention and harm-reduction responses to target and support a new population of users who may be using high-dose products without fully understanding the risks involved,’ said EMCDDA director Alexis Goosdeel. ‘This is particularly worrying since MDMA is moving into more mainstream social settings and is increasingly available via online markets.’

European drug report 2016 at www.emcdda.europa.eu