New psychoactive substances in Europe

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DATwo new substances a week identified in Europe

New psychoactive substances (NPS) are now being detected in Europe at a rate of two per week, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). More than 100 NPS were reported last year, says the European drug report 2015, with the total number of substances being monitored by the agency now standing at more than 450.

As in previous years the majority of substances reported were either synthetic cannabinoids or cathinones, with the internet now playing a ‘growing role’ in supplying both NPS and more established drugs and posing a ‘major challenge to law enforcement and drug control policies’. The British government recently moved to introduce a blanket ban on all NPS (DDN, June, page 4).

Meanwhile, although problems relating to heroin continue to ‘account for a large share of drug-related health and social costs’ across the continent, demand for the drug appears to be stagnating, says the document. More than half of Europe’s 1.3m long-term opioid users are now estimated to be in treatment, while the number of people entering heroin treatment for the first time stood at 23,000 in 2013, down from 2007’s figure of almost 60,000. The median age of opioid users rose by five years between 2006 and 2013, with a ‘significant number’ now in their 40s or 50s. However the report warns of potential future problems as a result of increased opium production in Afghanistan and alternative smuggling routes into Europe.

Unsurprisingly, cannabis remains the continent’s most widely consumed drug, with almost 20m people reporting use within the last year and more than 60,000 people entering first-time treatment for cannabis problems in 2013, while cocaine is still Europe’s most commonly used illicit stimulant. The document also reports increasing potency levels for cannabis, MDMA and other drugs.

‘The report shows that we are confronted with a rapidly changing, globalised drug market,’ said European commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos. ‘I am particularly concerned that the internet is increasingly becoming a new source of supply, for both controlled and uncontrolled psychoactive substances.’

The latest United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) World drug report, meanwhile, finds worldwide drug use rates to be ‘stable’, with just over 5 per cent of 15 to 64-year-olds using an illicit substance in 2013 and the total number of problem drug users standing at 27m.

Around 1.65m people who inject drugs are living with HIV, while 2013 saw just under 190,000 drug-related deaths. Just one in six problem drug users has access to treatment, the document adds. ‘Women in particular appear to face barriers to treatment,’ said UNODC executive director Yury Fedotov. ‘While one out of three drug users globally is a woman, only one out of five drug users in treatment is a woman.’

European drug report 2015 at www.emcdda.europa.eu

World drug report 2015 at www.unodc.or