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Drugs, an ongoing carnage. A growing European market that “requires united response”

The figures reported by the (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, EMCDDA) are impressive. Old and new “generation” drugs invade streets, schools and prisons. Tens of millions of consumers, high numbers of victims and drug addicts in all age groups. The involvement of organized crime calls into question political leaders and law enforcement authorities. And it requires prevention measures, rising the threshold of social alarm

Lisbona: la sede dell’Osservatorio europeo delle droghe e delle tossicodipendenze

Nine thousand estimated overdose drug deaths, to which must be added the long list of deaths linked to the –unfortunately – flourishing drug market that increases the revenues of organized crime, reaps victims in all age groups, filling hospital wards, penetrating schools, spreading inside prisons, ultimately destroying entire families. With an exponential increase of social costs. Drugs kill more children, young people and adults than terrorism, but while the alarm remains high for the latter, the widespread attitude towards drugs, of any kind, appears much more “distracted” if not even conciliatory. The “2018 European Drug Report – Trends and Developments”, published today by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, EMCDDA, is a tragic wake-up call.

Heroin continues to kill. The Report (http://www.emcdda.europa.eu; (EU figures and data divided by country) released in Brussels and Lisbon, where the Community agency is headquartered, underlines “the growing availability of cocaine” throughout Europe. The Report shows that 2.3 million young adults (15-34) have made use of cocaine in the past year. However, we were told that the estimates are an approximation by defect. Also the numbers of cocaine seizures have increased: around 98 thousand were reported in the EU in 2016 (90thousand in 2015) amounting to a total of 70.9 tons. The survey devotes specific chapters to cannabis (“availability and use remain high”) psychoactive substances, drug problem in prisons (also in relation to AIDS), online market. The Report voices “concern over the high number of overdose deaths in Europe, rising in the last four years.” “It is estimated that over 9 thousand overdose deaths occurred in Europe, caused primarily by heroin and other opioids in 2016”, the most recent data available at European level.

New laws. “‘We are seeing higher drug production and availability in Europe today. On top of that, the illicit drug market is highly dynamic and adaptable — and therefore all the more dangerous. If we want to stay ahead of the game, our efforts must focus on building both resilience and responsiveness”, said Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Home Affairs. “With the new rules on new psychoactive substances entering into force by the end of the year, Europe will be equipped with additional, stronger tools to face those challenges.”

Millions of consumers. The flourishing drug supply, arriving into Europe primarily from the Americas and Asia, “occurs in the context of a dynamic drug market which is able to adapt rapidly in response to drug control measures”, states the Report. Lisbon’s Monitoring Centre also explores “challenges associated with new psychoactive substances (NPS), including: the availability of new synthetic opioids (particularly highly potent fentanyl derivatives); and problems associated with the use of synthetic cannabinoids in marginalised groups (including the prison population).” The Report notes that, across the board, “drug availability is high and, in some areas, appears to be increasing.” Over 92 million adults in the EU (15–64 years) have tried an illicit drug in their lifetime and an estimated 1.3 million people received treatment for illicit drug use.”

Prevention measures. Alexis Goosdeel, EMCDDA Director, explained: “The findings from our new report indicate that Europe is now experiencing the consequences of increased cocaine production in Latin
America.” Therefore, “we must be concerned about the health implications of cocaine use as we are beginning to see some worrying developments in this area, including a larger number of people entering treatment for the first time for problems” linked to cocaine use. “These changes underline the growing importance of providing effective prevention, treatment and harm-reduction interventions for cocaine users.” Moreover, bad news abound: while Europe is a “major importer” of illicit drugs, the Report highlights “the role of Europe as a producing region”, noting that production takes place closer to consumer markets “for a number of reasons that include convenience; reducing the risk of detection at borders; and, depending on the drug, the availability or cost of essential chemicals needed in the production process.” There is an increase in MDMA (‘ecstasy’) and methamphetamine production.

The role of politics. The of the EMCDDA Management Board Laura d’Arrigo touched on the political implications of the drug problem: “The threats posed by drugs to public health and security in Europe continue to require a united response. The EU action plan on drugs, adopted in 2017, provides the framework for European cooperation. As drug problems shift and new trends appear, it is crucial that our monitoring system keeps pace. The European Drug Report, along with 30 country reports, provide the latest analysis to help decision-makers gain a clear picture of the phenomenon and adapt the political response to prevent and face emerging challenges.”

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