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16 September 2011 - Drugs and drug-related problems are major concerns for European Union citizens and pose a threat to the safety and health of European society. In particular is the spread in the use of unregulated synthetic substances among young people.
While previous focus has been on 'traditional' drugs like heroin and cocaine, a recent UNODC report shows that amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) such as "ecstasy" and methamphetamine now rank as the world's second most widely abused drug type after cannabis. The report - the 2011 Global ATS Assessment - notes that the expansion of illicit trade in such substances and the high profits generated by that trade pose an increasing threat to security and health worldwide.
Europe, notably West and Central Europe, continues to be an important market for amphetamines, both in manufacture and use. While in most countries the main ATS of concern continue to be amphetamine and ecstasy group substances, there is evidence that methamphetamine markets may be expanding. In addition, the appearance of new "designer drugs" on the market such as mephedrone constitutes a worrying new trend.
Substances such as mephedrone or methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) are sold as "bath salts" or "plant food" and act as substitutes for illicit stimulant drugs such as cocaine. Such substances are sold over the Internet and some have caused deaths.
Methamphetamine may also be expanding into Europe with several countries reporting an increase in its use and production. Illicit laboratories have been raided by police in many European countries. There are also signs that the drug may be replacing amphetamines in some parts of Europe.
Meanwhile, a European Commission survey shows that majority of young Europeans support the continued ban of illegal drugs. The survey, entitled Flash Eurobarometer: Youth attitudes on drugs measures trends in attitudes of young people towards drugs, building on earlier surveys carried out in 2002, 2004 and 2008.
The results, released in June 2011, showed a broad consensus among young people (age 15-24) in the European Union that heroin, cocaine and ecstasy should continue to be banned - almost all respondents agreed with this: 96 per cent for heroin, 94 per cent for cocaine and 92 per cent for ecstasy.
Regarding cannabis, 59 per cent of the interviewees said its sale and consumption should continue to be banned in the EU compared to 34 per cent who wanted the introduction of a system that regulated the sale and use of cannabis.
The situation is more complex when it comes to unregulated substances. Roughly a third (34 per cent) of respondents supported a general ban on "substances that imitate the effects of illicit drugs" while 15 per cent were in favour of some kind of regulation. About one in two (47 per cent) thought it would be better to ban only those substances that posed a risk to health.
Overall drug legalization is supported by just 13 per cent of young EU citizens aged 15-24, with a range of between 5 and 22 per cent in individual EU member states. The proportion has not changed since 2008.
UNODC: Synthetic Drugs And Precursors
Flash Eurobarometer: Analytical report on youth attitudes on drugs