Rise in use of cocaine has peaked, says EU drug agency report
According to the EU’s drugs agency, the rise in the use of cocaine across Europe over the past decade has peaked.
The relentless rise in the use of cocaine across Europe over the past decade has peaked as a result of the austere economic climate, according to the European Union’s drug agency.
However, the UK remains at the top of the European league table for cocaine use – as it has for seven out of the last eight years – despite the bubble bursting.
The annual report from the Lisbon-based European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction, published on Tuesday, shows illicit drug use across the EU relatively stable, with positive signs that cocaine use has peaked and cannabis use among young people continuing to decline.
But the agency says this encouraging picture is being offset by new threats from ‘legal highs’ and other synthetic drugs. It says that 39 new substances have been identified so far this year via the European early warning system on top of the 41 notified for the whole of 2010.
There are no signs of decline in their use and more than 150 new substances are being monitored by the authorities.
The EU drugs agency said this rapid appearance of new substances is being driven by a record 600 online retailers willing to despatch an order for what purports to be ‘psychoactive substances’ to at least one other EU state. The total includes 80 online shops selling mephedrone based in the UK.
The July survey that found these retailers also discovered a much wider variety of products. Many also displayed prominent disclaimers such as ‘not for human consumption’ or ‘for use only as plant food’. Others exercised caution by placing restrictions on delivery.
Ireland and Poland have both rapidly passed legislation limiting the open sale of ‘legal highs’. Health inspectors in Poland closed down 1,200 stores last year.
The report says cocaine has established itself over the past decade as the most popular stimulant drug across Europe with more than 4 million people using it every year.
“But the new data presented today raises the question as to whether its popularity has now peaked,” it adds. “The financial burden associated with regular cocaine use may make it a less attractive option in countries where austerity is now the order of the day.”
Experts say the bubble has burst because the average retail price for cocaine has reached between 50 and 80 euros per gram. There is also a growing recognition of the problems linked to cocaine use that has tarnished its image as an affluent lifestyle drug.
The EU data shows cocaine use by young adults, aged 15 to 34, in the UK has dipped from 6.1% in 2009 to 4.8% in 2010, with similar declines in Spain, Italy and Denmark.
The fall in popularity also echoes recent trends in Canada and the US, which have cocaine popularity levels below those in Britain.
Cannabis remains Europe’s most popular illicit drug with 78 million – or 20% of all Europeans – having tried it. Around 22.5 million Europeans used cannabis in the last year but its popularity is in sharp decline among schoolchildren.
A link with declining levels of cigarette smoking, changing fashions and the easy availability of other drugs may all lie behind the decline, said the experts. The proportion of schoolchildren in England who have ever tried cannabis has almost halved from 40% in 2000 to 22% last year.
Wolfgang Gotz, the EU drugs agency director, said the drugs market was quick to adapt to threats and opportunities: “This is reflected, not only in the sheer number of new substances appearing on the market, but also in their diversity and in how they are produced, distributed and marketed,” he said.
“We need a proactive strategy that allows us to identify new drugs and emerging trends so that we can anticipate their potential implications.”
He warned that individual national efforts were likely to prove ineffective without a co-ordinated response across Europe.