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European Union Struggles with Cannabis, Cocaine and New Psychoactive Drugs

A new report on the state of the drug market and use by Europeans reports that after stable drug use statistics for the last few years, some numbers are now on the increase. Cannabis, cocaine and new psychoactive drugs are flooding this market, addicting more Europeans and sending them to rehabs.

The Flourishing Market for “New Psychoactive Drugs”

For the last several years, EU law enforcement agencies have been monitoring the proliferation of these new psychoactive substances (NPS). These are the new synthetic formulas that have been found around the world—many of them strong stimulants or hallucinogens.

Many European drug traffickers acquire their NPS on the darknet. The darknet is a specialized segment of the internet not included in with Google, Yahoo or other search engine results. Some darknet websites are harmless but many others traffic in sordid activities and illegal substances such as synthetic drugs. When bought and sold on the darknet, synthetic drugs are often referred to as “research chemicals”—“not for human consumption.” But of course, the buyer and the seller know the real intention of the sales transaction.

In 2015, EU law enforcement was already monitoring hundreds of NPS formulas. In 2016, there were nearly two additional unique formulas detected each week. Thereafter, the rate of new drugs added to this list slowed to about one per week, bringing the total number of NPS detected to 620 by the end of 2016. While this slowing is a slight improvement, it does not mean that there has been any improvement in the quantity of these drugs making their way into the hands of consumers. It’s possible these drugs have never been tested on humans—any person using this drug could easily be taking his life in his hands.

The profile of the typical NPS user has shifted as the word has gotten out about the dangers of these drugs. It’s very often the marginalized, addicted person who is using these drugs—individuals who may simply be driven by the need to use drugs, any drugs, as long as they are cheap and available.

Those using NPS are three times more likely to seek emergency medical care than those individuals using more usual drugs like cannabis, alcohol, cocaine or heroin.

Cannabis in the EU

Hashish from Morocco enters the EU via Spain.
Hashish (cannabis resin).

The EU has become a greater producer of cannabis in recent years. Between 2002 and 2015, the number of plants seized shot from 3.3 million to 11.4 million, with the largest increase coming from the Netherlands. Herbal cannabis is usually grown indoors, while cannabis resin normally comes from Morocco, as it has for many years.

About half as many EU youth use cannabis as youth in the United States, but more than twice as many teens in the EU drink compared to their U.S. counterparts. While alcohol and tobacco use numbers are falling in both regions, cannabis use is pretty stable.

Every year, it’s estimated that EUR 9.3 billion are spent on cannabis products. The greatest quantity of cannabis resin is seized in Spain—just across the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco. Highest rates of herbal cannabis seizures occur in Spain, the UK and Northern Ireland. An astonishing 536 tonnes of cannabis resin was seized in 2015 in Spain.

About 1% of EU adults report that they are daily or near-daily users of cannabis. The number of people seeking treatment for problems with cannabis are increasing—first time entrants to treatment for cannabis increased from 43,000 in 2006 to 76,000 in 2015.

Seventy percent of EU drug seizures are cannabis products—herbal products, resin or plants. In order of descending quantity, the other drugs seized are:

  • Cocaine/crack cocaine 9%
  • Amphetamines 5%
  • Heroin 5%
  • MDMA (Ecstasy) 2%
  • All other substances combined equals 8%.

A person keeping track of drug seizures across the EU would accumulate a database of one million seizures each year. The greatest number of seizures are small, but larger seizures from drug traffickers make up the bulk of the weight.

Cocaine and Heroin

Cocaine use in the EU was flat for a few years but now, usage figures are on the rise once again. Most cocaine supplies are shipped by air from Bolivia, Colombia or Peru. Much of the supply lands in Western Africa first and then may be transshipped through Spain on its way to other EU countries.

Hand of a heroin user, heroin and paraphernalia

Heroin is the most common opioid in the EU. Compared to the U.S., far fewer people misuse prescription painkillers. The average age of the EU heroin user has increased in recent years, now averaging 37 years of age.

Following the trend in the U.S., the powerful opioid fentanyl has made an appearance and is usually illicitly manufactured, as it is in the U.S. In 2015, 27 kilograms of illicitly-manufactured morphine was also seized. In 2015, 4.5 tonnes of heroin was seized, most of it sourced from Afghanistan, Iran or Pakistan. If you add the tonnage seized in EU Member States Norway and Turkey, the seizures total 12.9 tonnes.

Teen Drug Abuse

As with the general population, cannabis is the most frequently used drug among teens. In second place is MDMA, a drug popular in most countries of the EU.

Approximately 4% of EU teens reported that they had used one of the NPS—a very dangerous trend, given the unpredictable effects of these drugs.

Fortunately, very few teens are heavy users of cannabis. Only about 2% reported using this drug nine or more times per months. In the EU, most cannabis is mixed with tobacco when it is smoked.

Treatment for Addiction in the EU

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany.
Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

In 2015, more than 60% of all the drug seizures across the EU occurred in just three countries—Spain, France and the United Kingdom. Among the other countries, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy and Sweden also had high numbers. It’s not surprising that these countries often have the highest number of people seeking help for addiction. Drug users in Europe frequently report polydrug use or the use of multiple drugs at once or in quick succession.

The UK, Germany and Spain have the highest number of first-time entrants into treatment for cannabis addiction.

Entrants into treatment for cocaine began to decline in 2008, especially in Italy and Spain. But there was a sharp uptick of admissions in 2015, led by Italy and the UK.

Those seeking help for addiction for amphetamines rocketed up between 2006 and 2015 with Germany and the Czech Republic leading the increase. Admissions grew from about 7,000 to more than 12,000 in this time.

While MDMA use appears to be increasing and potencies are higher, this drug is seldom the cause of a person seeking treatment.

Narconon Helps Turn EU Lives Around

Across Europe, there are many Narconon centers offering a drug-free route back to health and sobriety. There are Narconon rehabilitation facilities in Denmark, the Netherlands, Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and Russia. A full list of centers can be found here.

While more than 600,000 people addicted to opioids in the EU are receiving substitution treatment with methadone, buprenorphine, slow-release morphine or diacetylmorphine (pharmaceutical heroin), the Narconon program helps those addicted to all types of drugs rebuild their sober living skills for lasting sobriety. The Narconon program starts with a drug-free withdrawal step that many people say is the most tolerable withdrawal they have ever been through.

Rather than pharmaceutical support, each person receives generous nutritional support and plenty of one-on-one work with the staff—around the clock, if needed. This support is in the form of assists, gentle procedures that help calm aches and pains and relieves mental anguish. This help enables each person to begin envisioning a better, sober future for themselves.

In some cases, it is medically necessary for a person to taper off of certain substances, such as benzos or heavy alcohol use. When this is required Narconon centers work with medical detox facilites to safely help the individual get to the point where they can being their path to a truly drug-free life.

A sauna-based detoxification step follows. Anyone in the EU who has used a sauna knows about its cleansing effects. In this case, the combination of sweating in a sauna with an exact nutritional regimen and moderate daily exercise enables each person’s body to flush out old, stored, toxic residues from past drug and alcohol use. As long as these toxins remain lodged in fatty tissues, they can affect a person’s thinking and mood. But as these residual toxins leave, those on this step talk about how much clearer they can think. This prepares them well for the educational steps that follow that help them learn new, sober life skills.

Life Skills for Success and Sobriety

Over the fifty-year history of the Narconon program, a training program to teach the most vital sober living skills have been developed. To provide a firm foundation for each person’s sobriety, they cover the following lessons:

  • How to use good communication skills to succeed in life and relationships
  • How to differentiate a safe associate from one who is likely to lead you back into drug use
  • How to successfully deal with an antisocial personality to nullify their effect on you
  • Exactly how integrity can be lost and how it can be regained, providing great relief of spirit
  • How to identify those areas of life that need repair and how serious each situation is or is not
  • How to repair relationships with family, friends, employers and communities
Mother and child enjoying life in a European city.

With these skills and more in hand, each person is well-equipped to make their plan for a new sober life and then returning home, execute it.

Over the last fifty years, tens of thousands of people have been glad they chose the Narconon drug rehab program for their recovery. Learn how this program can help someone you care about start a new, lasting, sober life.