The EU’s drug policy agenda must embrace a broader and more complicated set of policy issues than ever before, the European Monitoring Centre for Dugs and Drug Addiction warned as it presented its annual report in Lisbon on 31 May.
Attending the launch, Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, acknowledged the challenge ahead.
“Europe faces a growing problem with drugs. New psychoactive substances, stimulants, heroin and other opioids continue to be in high demand and supply, with major impacts on public health,” he said.
The EU drug agency’s report, he added, provides the latest evidence of the scale of the drugs problem and will feed into policymakers’ responses.
With many illicit substances increasingly available online, the Commissioner confirmed that he is in contact with leading internet companies in a bid to try and tackle this source of supply.
A first meeting of technical experts will take place in Brussels next week.
The report paints a graphic picture of the European drugs market. It estimates its retail value to be some €24.3bn, but stresses that this is a conservative assessment, and that the actual figure could be as high as €31bn. Cannabis accounts for about 40 per cent of the total, followed by heroin (28 per cent), cocaine (24 per cent) and amphetamines (eight per cent).
Every year, over one million seizures of illicit drugs take place. Most are small quantities taken from their users, although multi-kilo consignments seized from traffickers and producers account for a large proportion of all drugs seized.
Overall, drug users in Europe are five to ten times more likely to die than their peers of the same age and gender. Deaths are primarily caused by an overdose, which was responsible for at least 6800 fatalities in 2014, but also indirectly from infections, accidents, violence and suicide.
Over three quarters of overdose victims are male with the UK and Germany together accounting for half the total, with increases also reported in Ireland and Lithuania.
Some 1.2 million people received treatment for illicit drug use in the EU during 2014. The number rises to 1.5 million if Norway and Turkey are included.
The annual report gives an insight into the drug emergencies hospitals have to deal with. A survey of ten countries found that three quarters of the patients were male with an average age of 32 years (28 for females). In 24 per cent of cases, the drug was heroin, followed by cocaine (17 per cent) and cannabis (16 per cent).
The 2016 report confirms the return of ecstasy as a drug of choice for young people. After declining from peak levels in the early to mid-2000s, over two million people between the ages of 15 to 34 used ecstasy in the past year.
Increases have been recorded in nine countries with sharp rises taking place in Bulgaria, Finland, France and England and Wales.
In addition, ecstasy tablets now tend to be at least twice as powerful as before with producers using aggressive marketing to push their pills in a variety of shapes and colours tailored to specific events such as music festivals.