Cocaine consumption on the rise in the EU
Cannabis remains the most widespread drug amongst Europeans but its levels of consumption might have reached a peak, unlike the use of cocaine which has shot up over the past year, a fresh study shows.
"Today's report reveals that drug use has stabilised in a number of important areas, albeit at historically high levels," said Wolfgang Goetz, the director of the Lisbon-based European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), when presenting this year's findings on Thursday (22 November).
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He was referring particularly to the use of cannabis and heroine, with the latter showing a decline in consumption in some European countries.
On the other hand, cocaine as the second most frequently used drug, has seen a rise by around a million users over the past year, with an estimated 4.5 million Europeans reported as having used cocaine in 2006.
Although Mr Goetz suggested the rise could partially be explained by more reliable statistics, the EMCDDA still highlighted the urgency of the problem, with the highest levels of cocaine found in Britain and Spain and the biggest increases in Denmark and Italy.
A total of 107 tonnes of the drug was recovered in 2005, with Spain and Portugal featuring as the main points of entry into Europe.
Overall, around 7,000 to 8,000 people in the EU's 27 member states and Norway died due to drug-related harm in 2005, as the last year for which data was available. The highest increase was recorded in Greece, Austria, Portugal and Finland.
No to cannabis
The drugs monitoring centre pointed out that cannabis remains frequently used by young people, especially in Spain, the Czech Republic, France and Italy.
Around 70 million Europeans - nearly a quarter of all adults in the 27-member bloc – say they have tried the drug at least once in their life and 23 million people used it last year, according to the report.
When presenting the figures, Mr Goetz said that there were more reports on health problems related to the consumption of cannabis "and that's why we are particularly concerned about the estimated 3 million Europeans who use it daily."
On the other hand, the Italian leftist MEP Giusto Catania, the vice-president of the civil rights committee of the European Parliament, suggested the cannabis statistics should be evaluated in the context of existing national laws in the EU.
"The consumption of cannabis in the US is much higher than in the EU and we know that the American laws are much stricter. On the other hand, the Netherlands with its liberal laws records levels lower than the EU average. So it's clear that tough legislation does not always work and lead to lower consumption," he said.
But Carel Edwards, the head of European Commission's unit on Coordination of antidrugs policy noted that EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini is strongly against legalisation of the drug as a possible alternative route.