Prescription, synthetic drug abuse worry EU watchdog

May 27, 2014 by Cecile Azzaro

While heroin use in Europe is declining, ever more people are getting their fix from prescription drugs, including some used to treat heroin addiction, a report said Tuesday.

It also warned of a flood of new, , and of established ones like ecstasy and cannabis becoming more potent.

"The phenomenon is dynamic and continues to evolve, leaving us no room for complacency as new threats emerge," Wolfgang Goetz, director of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), wrote in an introduction to the latest European Drug Report.

It highlighted abuse of synthetic opioids—the class of drugs to which heroin belongs—including methadone and buprenorphine that are used in substitution treatment.

Like heroin, they are addictive but safer, partly because as they are taken by mouth rather than injected.

"In 2012, 17 countries reported that over 10 percent of first-time clients entering specialist treatment were misusing opioids other than heroin," said the report.

In some countries, these drugs now represent the most common form of opioid abuse—like in Finland where buprenorphine is most popular.

The report warned of a "plethora" of new substances emerging, with 81 previously unknown psychoactive substances signalled in 2013 to bring the total to 350.

These seek to replace drugs that are strictly controlled under national or international laws. Unregulated, they are marketed as "legal highs" or disguised as herbal incense, bath salts, jewellery cleaner or even plant food.

The report warned that ecstasy and cannabis appeared to be getting stronger, their active ingredients boosted in the lab.

"I am deeply concerned that the drugs consumed in Europe today may be even more damaging to users' health than in the past," said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstroem.

Pot still popular

More than 80 million Europeans, about a quarter of the adult population, are estimated to have used illicit drugs at some point in their lives.

Most (73.6 million) used cannabis—18.1 million in the last year measured. Marijuana and hashish are consumed at a rate of about 2,000 tonnes per year.

Cocaine was in second place with 14.1 million people having used it (3.1 million in the last year measured), followed by amphetamines with 11.4 million users ever (1.5 million in the last year).

The agency quoted a recent analysis of raw sewage in 42 cities in 21 European countries, which calculated that 832 kilogrammes (1,800 pounds) of cocaine were consumed daily in Europe's cities—led by Amsterdam, Antwerp, London and Zurich.

Dutch cities also led in the use of ecstasy as well as cannabis, in which they were closely followed by Paris, Athens and Barcelona.

One in four 15- to 16-year-olds are estimated to have used an illicit drug, mainly marijuana, said the EMCDDA report.

Cannabis accounted for about 80 percent of the one million drug seizures each year, followed by cocaine and crack with nine percent, heroin with four percent, amphetamines with three percent, ecstasy two percent, and methamphetamine and LSD with one percent each.

Cannabis was also the drug most frequently cited in 2012 as the reason for seeking drug treatment for the first time.

While opioid use is on the decline—from 59,000 new clients in 2007 to 31,000 in 2012, there are still about 1.3 million "problem" users in Europe, said the report.

Heroin was the major cause of the 6,100 overdose deaths recorded in Europe in 2012—down from 6,500 in 2011 and 7,100 in 2009. Estonia, Norway, Ireland, Sweden and Finland have the highest overdose rates.

Cocaine accounted for some 500 deaths in 2012, said the report, compared to some 10,000-20,000 opioid deaths each year.

The report said the rise in substitute opioid use may partly explain recent outbreaks of HIV among drug users in Greece and Romania, long a problem in some Baltic countries and traditionally associated with injection.

And it raised concerns about the Internet as a growing marketplace.

"The fact that manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, website-hosting and payment processing services may all be based in different countries makes it particularly difficult to control," said the document.

Explore further: Synthetic drug use rapidly rising in Europe, report finds

Related Stories

Synthetic drug use rapidly rising in Europe, report finds

May 28, 2013
New synthetic psychoactive substances are making their way into Europe where the Internet is becoming a big challenge in the fight against illicit drugs, the continent's drug agency warned Tuesday.

An overview of drug approaches in Europe

April 10, 2014
Countries in Europe, even neighbours, have vastly different approaches to combating drug abuse.

Heroin, amphetamines head list of problem drugs

August 28, 2013
Heroin accounted for more than half of the 78,000 deaths from illegal drugs in 2010, but amphetamine had most addicts, researchers reported in The Lancet on Wednesday.

200 million use illegal drugs: Lancet estimate

January 6, 2012
About 200 million people around the world use illicit drugs, according to a study published on Friday in The Lancet.

More opioid dependence treatment needed

August 6, 2013
A new report from Simon Fraser University researcher Bohdan Nosyk calls for the expansion of heroin and opioid medical treatment to stem the increase of overdose deaths.

27 million problem drug users worldwide: UN

June 26, 2012
Some 27 million people worldwide are problem drug users, with almost one percent every year dying from narcotics abuse, while cannabis remains the most popular drug, a UN report showed Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Concern with potential rise in super-potent cannabis concentrates

July 21, 2017
University of Queensland researchers are concerned the recent legalisation of medicinal cannabis in Australia may give rise to super-potent cannabis concentrates with associated harmful effects.

Findings link aldosterone with alcohol use disorder

July 18, 2017
A new study led by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, demonstrates that aldosterone, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, may contribute ...

Depression among young teens linked to cannabis use at 18

July 17, 2017
A study looking at the cumulative effects of depression in youth, found that young people with chronic or severe forms of depression were at elevated risk for developing a problem with cannabis in later adolescence.

Why does prenatal alcohol exposure increase the likelihood of addiction?

July 7, 2017
One of the many negative consequences when fetuses are exposed to alcohol in the womb is an increased risk for drug addiction later in life. Neuroscientists in the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions are ...

Researchers say U.S. policies on drugs and addiction could use a dose of neuroscience

June 23, 2017
Tens of thousands of Americans die from drug overdoses every year – around 50,000 in 2015 – and the number has been steadily climbing for at least the last decade and a half, according to the National Institute on Drug ...

Study provides further support for genetic factors underlying addictions

June 13, 2017
Impairment of a particular gene raises increases susceptibility to opioid addiction liability as well as vulnerability to binge eating according to a new study.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.