Tougher action across the European Union is needed to tackle the growing problem of new synthetic drugs entering the market, according to a report by the European Commission released today. The EU indentified a record number of 41 such psychoactive substances – which imitate the effects of dangerous drugs like ecstasy or cocaine and are sold legally – in 2010, up from 24 the previous year. The drugs, which can be just as dangerous as banned substances, are often sold over the Internet and in specialist shops. The report assesses the current EU rules on tackling new psychoactive drugs. The Commission plans to strengthen these rules to prevent such unsafe substances from being sold freely on the market.
According to a new Eurobarometer survey published today, new substances that imitate the effects of illicit drugs are increasingly popular with 5% of young Europeans saying they have used them. The figures are the highest in Ireland (16%), followed by Poland (9%), Latvia (9%), the UK (8%) and Luxembourg (7%). The Eurobarometer reveals that across all 27 EU Member States, a large majority of 15 to 24 year-olds are in favour of banning these substances.
“New synthetic drugs are becoming widely available at an unprecedented pace in Europe. They can be toxic, addictive and have long-term adverse effects,” said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. “We need to act at EU level and protect our children. The current system of detecting these new drugs is not fit to tackle the large increase in the number of these substances on the market. That’s why these rules must be strengthened to make sure young people do not fall into the trap of using these dangerous drugs. We must make sure that our legislative framework tackling these substances is strong and effective.”
Assessment report: Tackling new psychoactive substances
Today’s report assesses the EU’s mechanism for dealing with new psychoactive substances entering the European market. The mechanism, set up in 2005, involves early warnings about new substances between EU member states, risk assessment and, potentially, Europe-wide control measures.
The report finds that the system for early warnings works well, but that the overall mechanism has struggled to keep up with the large numbers of new substances coming on the market. For instance, it is easy for people to get around the current control measures and create new drugs that may be legal but have serious harmful effects. The current system also lacks a range of effective options for control measures.
The Commission is considering various ways to make the EU rules more effective, such as alternative options to criminal sanctions, new ways of monitoring substances that cause concern, and aligning drugs control measures with those for food and product safety. In the autumn, the Commission will present a series of options in this respect.
The report found that new psychoactive substances are becoming widely available in Europe at an unprecedented pace. 115 such substances were reported since 2005. In 2010, a record number of 41 new drugs were reported, up from 24 in 2009 and 13 in 2008. They included a plant-based substance, synthetic derivatives of well-established drugs, and so-called ‘designer drugs’.
New psychoactive substances are increasingly a global problem. While the use of ‘traditional drugs’ such as cocaine, heroine and ecstasy, is “generally stable,” new drugs are supplying the illicit drug market, as traders take advantage of internationally unregulated chemicals, according to the “World Drug Report 2011” by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Eurobarometer survey: Young people’s drug use
The Eurobarometer survey released today shows that for the 5% of respondents who admitted to using synthetic drugs, the main sources were through friends (54%), at parties or in clubs (37%), in specialist shops (33%), or over the internet (7%).
The Eurobarometer also shows that 1 in 3 young men (32%) admit having used cannabis at least once in their lifetime compared to 1 in 5 young women (20%). Europeans aged 15-24 make a clear distinction between cannabis and other illicit drugs – both in terms of availability and health effects. Overall, far more young people consider cocaine (95%) and ecstasy (92%) to pose a high health risk to regular users than cannabis (67%) – compared to 57% for alcohol. Among those young people who have never used cannabis, 75% thought that its regular use would pose a high risk, compared to 36% of those who have used the drug in the past year. 57% of respondents believe they could easily obtain cannabis within 24 hours, while only 22% said the same for ecstasy or cocaine.
Tackling drug abuse requires a long-term, balanced approach, targeting with equal vigour prevention, harm reduction, drug treatment, and drug trafficking. The EU Drugs Strategy for 2005-2012 and its two implementing Drugs Action Plans (2005-2008 and 2009-2012) set out the EU’s coherent and balanced approach to reduce users’ demand and the supply of drugs.
The Commission plays a central role in coordinating measures to reduce the use of illicit drugs and combating drug trafficking. Under Council Decision 2005/387/JHA, the Commission is responsible for proposing to Member States that new drugs be put under control. The Decision set up a mechanism for the rapid exchange of information on new drugs, for assessing their risks and submitting them to control across the EU. Today’s report assesses the functioning of this mechanism.