LISBON - New "legal highs" though often toxic drugs at the rate of two per week is replacing the use of traditional drugs such as heroin by Europeans, with online marketing and supplies playing a key role, according to a new EU report on drugs abuse released Thursday.
A key finding in this year's report European Drug Report 2015: Trends and Developments by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug addiction (EMCDDA) is the marked rise in the potency and purity of Europe's most commonly used illicit drugs, fuelling concerns for the health of users who, wittingly or unwittingly, may be consuming stronger products.
Overall trends for the period 200613 show the potency of cannabis (THC content), the purity of cocaine and the MDMA-content (a synthetic substance) in ecstasy tablets to have risen in countries consistently reporting data, heroin purity also rose in 2013.
Technical innovation and market competition are two of the likely factors driving the trend.
The annual study for last 20 years highlights concerns over ecstasy tablets with high levels of MDMA, often sold with distinctive shapes and logos.
Over the last year, the EMCDDA and Europol have issued public health alerts on the risks of consuming such products. Alerts have also been issued regarding tablets sold as ecstasy but containing other harmful substances, such as PMMA, following a series of deaths.
New psychoactive substances (NPS or 'new drugs', often sold as 'legal highs') were detected in the EU last year at the rate of around two per week. A total of 101 new substances were reported to the EWS in 2014 (up from 81 substances in 2013), continuing an upward trend in substances notified in a single year.
This brings the total number of substances being monitored by the agency to over 450, with more than half of that figure being identified in the last three years alone.
In 2014, the list of substances reported was again dominated by two groups: synthetic cathinones (31 substances) and synthetic cannabinoids (30 substances) often sold respectively as legal replacements for stimulants and cannabis.
These represent the two largest groups monitored by the EWS and, together, make up almost two-thirds of the new drugs notified in 2014.
"This 20th analysis of the European drug phenomenon demonstrates how much has changed since the EMCDDA's first report in 1996, and how much the agency has enhanced understanding of this issue," said Chairman of the EMCDDA Management Board Joao Goulao in a statement.
"The complexity of the drugs problem is now far greater, with many of the substances featured today virtually unknown to users two decades ago. The boundaries between old and new drugs are also becoming harder to define, as novel substances increasingly mimic controlled drugs."
New data on seizures show that around 35 000 seizures of NPS were reported in the EU in 2013 (although this should be seen as a minimum estimate due to lack of routine reporting in this area). Of these, the most commonly seized were synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones.
The Internet plays a growing role in supplying and marketing drugs to Europeans, with NPS and established drugs both offered for sale online. Use of the 'surface web' (accessible via common search engines) for the sale of NPS has received greater attention over the last decade, with EMCDDA monitoring identifying around 650 websites selling 'legal highs' to Europeans.
A challenging development in the online market is the sale of illicit drugs on 'crypto markets' or 'deep web' online marketplaces (accessible via encryption software). These allow goods and services to be exchanged between parties anonymously, often using 'crypto currencies' (e.g. Bitcoin) to facilitate hidden transactions.
So-called 'grey marketplaces' are also emerging, where sites operate on both the surface and deep web. The report highlights how social media and apps also play an active role in drug markets, whether used directly for buying and selling drugs or indirectly for marketing, opinion-forming or experience-sharing.
"The growth of online and virtual drug markets pose major challenges to law enforcement and drug control policies", says the report. "Existing regulatory models will need to be adapted to perform in a global and virtual context".
(Source: Europe News.Net)