Drug overdoses on rise in Europe: EU watchdog

Drug overdoses on rise in Europe: EU watchdog

BRUSSELS – Agence France-Presse
Drug overdoses on rise in Europe: EU watchdog

Death by drug overdose is on the rise in Europe spurred by more lethal strains of heroin, the EU's drug monitoring body warned in a report released on June 6.

A total of 8,441 people succumbed to a drug overdose in 2015, a total that has risen for the third consecutive year, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Addiction said.

Deaths by overdose in 2015 rose from 7,950 in 2014, a rise of 6 percent, with almost half those deaths reported in Germany and Britain, though this is in part due to better tracking.

The number of deaths, 80 percent attributable to heroin or opioids, comes as the purity of the narcotic increases while the price has been dropping, the report showed.

Over three-quarters of the victims are men.

But the death rate in Europe remains far lower than an opiate epidemic in the U.S. where deaths are expected to have exceeded 59,000 last year, according to preliminary data compiled by The New York Times.

"The impact of the drugs problem continues to be a significant challenge for European societies," EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said in a statement introducing the report.

"Over 93 million Europeans have tried an illicit drug in their lives", making up more than one quarter of those aged between 15 and 64, he added.

In its annual report, the agency warned that young users were experimenting more than ever with a new wave of designer drugs.

In 2016 alone, the agency identified more than 66 never encountered psychoactive substances (NPS), most of them synthetic versions of cannabis or of stimulants such as amphetamines or cocaine.

Though at slower rate than in previous years, the drugs were hitting the market at roughly the rate of one per week with the agency currently monitoring a total 620 new psychoactive substances.

The report said prevention campaigns across Europe were making headway in countering perceptions that the new substances were safer alternatives to illicit drugs.

But this was less true for "more chronic and marginalized user populations" where evidence showed that designer drug use may be growing.

Europe's most commonly used stimulants remained cocaine, MDMA (or "ecstasy") and amphetamines, the agency said.

These "continue to be associated with diverse and geographically differentiated patterns of use, and all have higher reported purity levels than a decade ago," the report said.

The agency said that cocaine use was making a return in southern and western countries that serve as trafficking routes.

Traces of cocaine increased in 22 of the 33 European cities monitored using waste-water monitoring, a detection technique, the report said.

Around 2.3 million young adults have used cocaine in the last year, it added.

Cannabis is the most commonly seized drug, accounting for over 70 percent of seizures in Europe, with cocaine ranking a distant second.

The report also compared drug use among 15 and 16 year olds in the US and Europe with significant differences emerging.

Last month cannabis use by school students in Europe was at eight percent, around half the level reported in the U.S. at 15 percent.

But in Europe, tobacco use was almost four times higher at 23 percent than in the US, where it was a super low four percent among school students surveyed.