Report: Synthetic drugs a rising problem in Europe

Spice and other synthetic cannabinoids are on the rise in Europe. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Spice and other synthetic cannabinoids are on the rise in Europe. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

While the popularity of some established drugs seem to be on the decline across Europe, new drugs considered “legal highs” are cause for increased concern, according to a recently released report.

The European Drug Report 2013: Trends and developments, published at the end of May by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), found although there seem to be fewer new users of heroin and lower rates of cannabis and cocaine use in areas, newer psychoactive drugs seem to be rising in popularity.

Last year, the EMCDDA found 73 new synthetic drugs – a drastic jump from the 49 detected in 2011. Of the 73, 30 were types of synthetic cannabinoids (known as spice), which often are presented as legal alternatives to marijuana while also mimicking its effects. In all, 84 synthetic cannabinoids are being monitored by the EU’s early warning system.

U.S. officials also are carefully watching spice as it continues to grow in popularity, especially among young people. In 2009, U.S. Poison Control Centers in 41 states in the U.S. reported only 13 calls related to spice. In 2010, that number skyrocketed to 2,900. In 2011, it had reached 6,959 calls.

The report also notes synthetic stimulants are growing in popularity, including amphetamines (this also includes methamphetamines). In fact, about 12.7 million Europeans ages 15 to 64 have tried amphetamines at least once in their lifetime whereas 11.4 million in the same age group had tried ecstasy, or MDMA. Although the numbers of those using these drugs had leveled off, they still remained two of the most commonly used stimulants in Europe and recently appear to have begun making a comeback.

On a positive note, the report showed a decrease in the availability and use of heroin – the numbers of people entering treatment fell from a peak of 59,000 in 2007 to 41,000 in 2011. Additionally, data shows a decrease in the number of those injecting heroin. Cocaine, which still is the most popular stimulant drug in Europe, also faces a downward trend on use and supply. Treatment rates, an indicator of use, also fell from 37,000 in 2009 to 31,000 in 2011.

Check out the full report here.

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